With Thanksgiving just around the corner we thought we might look at some other foods unique to Ohio.
In Toledo its Tony Packo’s Hungarian Hot Dogs made famous by Jamie Farr in the TV Series M.A.S.H.. Cincinnati has it’s famous Cincinnati Chili and here in northeastern Ohio there is Barberton Chicken.
There’s no secret recipe about the chicken. It’s just large hunks of fresh chicken that has been deep-fried in pure lard until it is golden brown. Usually no special spices are added, just some salt and pepper, and very little of that. The real secret to Barberton Chicken is not in the chicken, but in the lard and the hot rice that accompanies it.
Barberton Chicken, most folks in Barberton agree, got it’s start back in the 1930’s at a restaurant called “The Belgrade Gardens” in Barberton. I tasted my first Barberton Chickien several years ago at Milich Village Inn in Norton. Owner Dale Milich told me his mother was working for a Serbian Family by the name of Topalsky in 1935 when they bought the first small tavern that would become Belgrade Gardens Restaurant. They introduced their customers to a chicken and rice dish that was Serbian in origin, but with a few new ingredients.
Dale says the real secret ingredient is the lard that it is cooked in. Also the reason this chicken stands out is that real Barberton Chicken is always made with fresh, never frozen, chicken and all the ingredients for the dishes that go with it are made from scratch as much as possible. For example, fresh, not frozen potatoes are used in the French Fries and the sauce, well, that’s still a closely held secret by each restaurant, who have developed their own variations. But, it’s essentially a dish we all ate in public school called, “Spanish Rice,” At least, that’s what it looks like. It’s a tomato sauce base with other herbs and ingredients poured over white rice. Some make it spicier than others. According to Dale Milich Barberton Chicken just tastes like chicken should taste, “there is no other spices or ingredients to take away from the true chicken flavor.” Dale should know, his family has been associated with just about every restaurant in the Barberton area that sells true “Barberton Chicken”. He speaks highly of his competition. “We all use the same fresh chicken and ingredients”, he says, “ That’s why there isn’t too much difference in the taste between restaurants.” But what about the sauce? Ah, well there is a difference.
Each restaurant has their own combination of spices and condiments that they use to flavor the rice side-dish that makes Barberton Chicken unique. Today there are at least a half-dozen restaurants in the Barberton, Norton, Cuyahoga Falls area that serve “authentic” Barberton Chicken. Some people tell me they have tried all of them, just to compare the different hot sauces. Now that sounds like a fun One Tank Trip.
You can still have Barberton Chicken at the place it originated: Belgrade Gardens, 401 E. State Street, Barberton. 330-745-0113