We're throwing down the deep-fried gauntlet — the Save-A-Lot on Southland Dr. in Lexington serves up the tastiest fried chicken in the land.
When talk turns to fried chicken, as it often does in Kentucky, folks take sides quicker than the Hatfield clan squaring off against the McCoys.
Some like it heavily breaded and fried until deep, golden brown. Others prefer it light and airy with just a hint of spice. Some swear the only decent fried chicken comes from Mamaw's cast-iron skillet that hasn't seen a scrubbing brush in 100 years.
Kentuckians are passionate how they like their fried chicken, and will inevitably drop names to support their position.
Traditionalists swear by Claudia Sander's Dinner House in Shelbyville. Loyalists opt for the original Kentucky Fried Chicken in Corbin. In Lexington, there are more than a few Indi's devotees and fans of Richie's Fast Food. And don't even get us started on those white-tablecloth type places trying to turn fried chicken into haute cuisine (at $30 a plate).
Nope, you can keep all that. For our money, Kentucky's tastiest fried chicken comes from the Save-A-Lot deli on Southland Dr. in Lexington. It's one of the worst kept secrets in town.
"There's always someone here frying chicken," says cook Christina Dickerson. "We go through a LOT of chicken."
At least several hundred pieces a day. Even more around football tailgating season and holidays.
The first batch drops into one of three pressure cookers at 8:30 a.m. each morning and the frying continues nonstop until 7 that night. Seven days a week.
You can smell the chicken cooking from the parking lot, and the savory aroma draws people in like bees to deep-fried nectar.
"Every time I drive by this place, my car just turns in," says one Reddit user. "Best fried chicken in Lexington."
Deli manager Dessi Comley first started working at the location when she was 16, back when it was still Slone's Signature Market. That's where the fried-chicken recipe originated and it hasn't changed to this day.
The Southland location is the only Save-A-Lot in town with a deli, and Miss Dessi, as co-workers call her, and her crew make everything in house. They're also known for their meatloaf and Guinness beer cheese, but you can't beat the chicken.
"I think it's the breading that makes for the best fried chicken," Comley says. "And the fact that it's pressure cooked."
She won't divulge any details about what goes into the breading, other than to say that the key is to dust off the excess flour before frying. There's no brine solution or overnight soak in buttermilk. It's just a quick dip into the breading mixture, a shake and straight into a pressure cook for no more than 15 minutes.
The chicken comes out piping hot and incredibly moist but not greasy, with just enough breading to add a lacy coating without laying it on too thick. There a hit of peppery spice that kicks in with each bite, followed by a long, savory finish.
The deli crew is happy to offer a free sample to those who've never tried it.
"They'll be back," Comley says.
Folks have been known to drive across town and from as far as Louisville and Pikeville — especially during tailgating season — for a taste of Save-A-Lot's fried chicken. It's also a big hit at picnics, family reunions and at more than a few weddings.
I can't go any place without someone talking about the chicken.
"We also have our regulars who come in and get the same thing every day. You can shoot the bull with them and they love it," Comley says. "I like the neighborhood and our clientele. And I love our seniors who come in."
As much as Miss Dessi and her crew love their customers, it can sometimes be tough to get away from the fried chicken. A fellow mourner at a recent funeral even pulled Comley aside to dish about Save-A-Lot's fried chicken.
"I can't go any place without someone talking about the chicken," she says.
Photography by Savanna Barnett
To try Kentucky's tastiest fried chicken for yourself, visit Save-A-Lot at 398 Southland Dr. in Lexington. Know of another spot for great fried chicken in Kentucky? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll be putting together a list for later.