Martha Lou Gadsden’s pink cinderblock restaurant has gotten quite a lot of buzz over the last year — from The New York Times to Saveur — but she’s been serving soul food from her little Morrison Drive kitchen for 28 years now. With the help of her daughter Debra, every weekday she churns out a small menu of homemade Southern fare, including everything from super-salty lima beans to pork chops to macaroni and cheese with a perfectly crispy crust. But most people go to Martha Lou’s for the fried chicken.
You can feel the history in the humble dining room. The walls are covered in murals, newspaper clippings, and photographs, and the whole place is packed with booths and tables. The proprietors greet each guest warmly, pointing to a white board advertising the day’s menu — you can usually get a meat with three sides and cornbread for around $8.
After giving our order, Martha Lou promises to be back “in two shakes of a lamb’s tail” and retreats back into the kitchen where she prepares the chicken. Fifteen minutes later, she returns with a steaming styrofoam box filled with her specialty. The chicken tastes exactly like fried chicken should: perfectly seasoned with a crispy browned crust.
Martha Lou learned to fry chicken at her first restaurant job decades ago. Back then she pan-fried the bird in lard or Crisco, avoiding oil because it penetrates the meat quicker and making sure to keep the temperature around 325 degrees. These days she uses a deep fryer to keep up with the demand of her customers.
“People just love my fried chicken,” she says. “There’s nothing to it if you’ve been doing it as long as I have.”
Martha Lou’s Fried Chicken
• Thawed chicken
• Salt, pepper, and other seasonings
1. Divide, wash, and season your chicken with salt, pepper, and other spices. (Martha Lou’s exact blend remains a secret.)
2. Roll the chicken in self-rising flour, then dip it into the batter (a blend of milk and water), then transfer it back into the flour for a second coating.
3. Drop the floured chicken into the deep fryer for 15 minutes. While you’re waiting, listen to gospel music on the radio.
4. Remove the chicken from the fryer and serve with mac and cheese, cornbread, and sweet tea for optimal results.