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Arkansas’ best fried chicken?

Where do you go for the best fried chicken in Arkansas?

When I think of barbecue, I tend to think of the Delta.

But when it comes to fried chicken, northwest Arkansas is the part of our state that first comes to mind.

Maybe it’s because my parents would take me to the AQ Chicken House in Springdale when I was a child whenever we were in the area. There was even an AQ at Russellville for a time, and it was the place we would stop after making the trip up Arkansas Highway 7 from Arkadelphia to Russellville to watch Ouachita take on Arkansas Tech in football and basketball.

I mentioned in the previous post that my restaurants of choice when spending two nights in northwest Arkansas are the Venesian Inn at Tontitown and the Monte Ne Inn near Rogers.

Of course, at Monte Ne there is no other choice. It’s fried chicken or nothing. You sit down in a small restaurant near the place Coin Harvey tried to make famous, and they start bringing food.

It’s all you can eat. Maybe that’s why I like it so much. I find it hard to stop when eating fried chicken.

You start with the bean soup. That’s followed by the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, coleslaw, rolls and apple butter. You should call ahead for reservations at (479) 636-5511. The restaurant serves its chicken from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. each Tuesday through Saturday and from noon until 7 p.m. each Sunday.

To get to the Monte Ne Inn, take exit 83 off Interstate 540. That will put you on New Hope Road. You’ll head east for several miles, and New Hope Road will turn into Monte Ne Road.

As far as the Venesian Inn is concerned, all of those who have ever attended the University of Arkansas (and even many of those who have simply attended Razorback football games through the years) have Venesian stories.

Sure there’s a lot more than fried chicken on the menu here. But I usually find myself going for the No. 1 — three pieces of fried chicken served with spaghetti and meat sauce. There are also what might just be the best rolls in any Arkansas restaurant.

Ordering the No. 1 is a good way to combine the Italian culture of Tontitown with the fried chicken heritage of the Ozarks.

Here’s how the restaurant’s website describes the history of this venerable place: “For more than 60 years, the Venesian Inn has been a treasured part of the northwest Arkansas community. Germano Gasparotto, an Italian by birth, opened the restaurant in 1947. A few years later, he sold the Venesian Inn to John and Mary Granata, also native Italians, who passed it on to their daughter, Alice Leatherman. Alice, the beloved prankster, served customers at the restaurant for many years with her fun-loving nature and commitment to fine Italian food always made from scratch.

“The family tradition was then passed on to her nephew, Johnny Mhoon, and his wife, Linda, in 1992. With dedication, hard work and a focus on high-quality food and service, Johnny and Linda continued to draw people from all over the area. The sense of family is also reflected in the fact that some of the restaurant’s employees have been here for more than 30 years.”

You’ll still sit at the wooden tables installed by Gasparotto in 1947. The brick walls and hardwood room dividers are original.

According to the website, “Mhoon says some of her regular customers recall the days when a Venesian Inn #9 steak cost only $1.50. As one of the restaurant’s original waitresses, Elsie Mae Pianalto, explains, the Venesian Inn charm is what keeps customers coming back again and again: ‘People who came here as children bring their children here. … They say it’s neat to see everything the same.”’

By the way, the #9 is a 16-ounce sirloin that will now set you back $18.95. I think it’s a bargain at that price. Pay the additional $2 to replace the fries with spaghetti.

The AQ Chicken House in Springdale, meanwhile, opened on July 20, 1947. The founder, Roy C. Ritter, was among the pioneers of the poultry industry in the Ozarks. He had large chicken houses and his own processing plant.

What’s does AQ stand for?

Arkansas Quality.

The company claims to serve more than 1 million customers a year at its two locations in Springdale and Fayetteville.

In 1949, half a chicken cost 65 cents and a cup of coffee cost 5 cents. In 1966, AQ shipped 400 dinners to Miss Universe contestants, and by 1972 franchises were available. The Fayetteville location was added in 1991, and an outlet was opened for football games in the expanded Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in 2001.

So in northwest Arkansas you have the Monte Ne Inn, the Venesian Inn and the AQ Chicken House.

What about Little Rock?

I would cast my vote for the Kitchen Express at 4600 Asher Ave. The fried chicken dinner there is $5.59 for one piece, $6.09 for two pieces and $6.99 for three pieces. Add an extra 79 cents for all white meat. Those prices include the choice of two vegetables, and the vegetables at Kitchen Express are excellent (don’t miss the boiled okra).

On the day fried chicken is served at lunch — if you want to go upscale — the Capital Bar & Grill at the Capital Hotel is hard to beat.

I’ve also found Franke’s to have consistently good fried chicken.

Several years ago, I was one of the judges on KABZ-FM, 103.7, for a fried chicken contest that Tommy Smith put together. I ate chicken with the famous Taz at 7 a.m. until I was about to pop.

Get this: Browning’s was the winner. I have no idea if the new incarnation of Browning’s that will soon open on Kavanaugh will offer fried chicken.

Fried chicken places I miss?

I miss Paul’s in the Park Hill area of North Little Rock. The fried chicken there was worth the wait.

I especially miss Mrs. Miller’s in Hot Springs, which was probably my father’s favorite restaurant in the state. You also could order fried quail there, a special treat on my family’s regular trips to Hot Springs when I was young.

What restaurants am I leaving out?

Who do you think serves the best fried chicken in Arkansas and why?

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