One of my goals for the year - I start my "years" in September... who needs to be trying to embark on a new path on January 1st, a day when you're likely hungover as all hell? - was to try as many new restaurants as possible and avoid my usual trap of just re-visiting favourites because I know they're good (a seemingly easy mission, but I am a big-time creature of comfort.) When my friend Vanessa mentioned The County General, a new place that opened on Queen West serving up a cool twist on Southern food, I was excited to try it. (If you're sensing a theme here, yes, Vanessa's a very good restaurant-finder.) I looove me some fried chicken.
Three friends and I went after work on Thursday to beat the crowds, and I was glad we did - around 8 the tiny joint got packed. I ordered a pint of Muskoka Cream Ale ($7) and took in the simple but yummy-looking menu and scenery: wood everything, a stocked "grog and hooch" bar and adorable country-inspired details like gingham serviettes. *Excuse the photo quality, brought my camera but forgot my SIM card... Oops!*
I ordered the coleslaw ($3) to start and was surprised to find it included green apple and was far from the creamy slaw I had been imagining. After a bite, though, I had forgotten about the creaminess I thought I'd miss. Tart (I tasted notes of key lime) crunchy and light, it was a palate-refreshing start to the meal and had me excited for the meaty main course.
My friend Molly asked for the white bean, ham and mustard soup ($5) and a sizeable bowl of steaming, hearty soup arrived - a perfect portion for a light, cheap lunch. The chunks of ham were tender and juicy and the broth was super flavourful, if not a bit on the salty side.
Lo ordered the deviled eggs ($1.50) which I politely refrained from asking to sample (a rare, rare occasion!) She happily gobbled them up, though.
The fries were hot, crispy, spicily seasoned and served with a homemade cherry-wood smoked ketchup in a low tumbler glass. Awesome.
Molly ordered the County Heirloom Tomato Sandwich ($12) which came with mayonnaise, avocado chutney and Ottawa Valley cheddar. Juicy (read: messy) and flavourful.
We weren't going to order dessert (as it turned out, the fried chicken sandwich was deceivingly filling!) but at $3 a pop for the salted caramel cupcake, how could we really resist? And I was so glad we did - it was a highlight of the meal, and I'm not even a dessert girl. The chocolate cake was light and airy, the buttercream frosting nailed the salty-to-sweet ratio perfectly and a nugget of gooey salted caramel nestled in the centre made the most delicious surprise. Mmm-mmm-mmm! Even my dining companions, who had politely declined (but buckled after I insisted they'd want to try a bite if I ordered it) were seen having more than one bite (oh, I counted!)
In short, the well-played touches (like the mini planter, above, which held our rooster-stamped bills), service-with-a-smile and sophisticated take on Southern favourites will keep this place as full as it was by the time we dragged ourselves out. I'll be back - and next time, I'm having that Two Way Fried Chicken all to myself!