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Marcus Samuelsson Reveals His All-Time Favorite Harlem Fried Chicken Joint

marcus_chefs_off_duty.jpgEach week in our Chefs Off Duty series, we talk to some of our favorite chefs and industry folk around the country to find out their secret late-night spots where they like to grab a bite and a pint when their kitchens are finally closed. Next up: Marcus Samuelsson, the chef/owner behind Harlem's wildly popular Swedish-meets-soul food emporium, Red Rooster and its sister subterranean supper club, Ginny's, and the author of the James Beard award-winning memoir Yes, Chef, which comes out on paperback tomorrow. 

Where is your favorite place to go get a bite to eat when you're leaving your own restaurant?

I love Charles' [Country Pan] Fried Chicken, which is on 150th and Eighth Avenue. It's tiny -- it's a classic mom and pop. It's an all-day, American Southern soulfood restaurant. Most people don't really eat in but I eat in or take the meal across the street. It's a staple of the community. People come after work, bring the box home or go eat it on the way to work. People are there all day. I have a little bit of collard greens and a little bit of peas and then I go over and watch basketball. There's a legendary outdoor basketball court here in Harlem where basketball players like Kobe Bryant go in the summer to play with the street guys. It's one of my favorite things.

How did you first come across Charles'?

Before I opened [Red] Rooster, I biked and walked a lot around the neighborhood to learn what the community was about and to learn the DNA of the community -- just going there and finding out that this is where the really good fried yard bird is. I'd read about it and done a lot of research. They'd been there for a while and [I] just stumbled upon it seven or eight years ago when I was really thinking about [opening] Red Rooster. That's the great thing about walking or biking in a community, you can stop and participate.

What do you like to order there?

Fried chicken -- they fry it in a cast [iron] skillet. I'll get a little bit of collard greens, little bit of black-eyed peas and a little bit of hot sauce and some mac 'n' cheese. Then I'm good. It's very traditional.

Any fun memories from having meals at Charles'?

One of my favorite things is to go over there and always check with [Charles] if I'm ever having doubts about how a fried chicken or fried yardbird should be done. I always go over there. When I was about to open Rooster, I thought about the fried yardbird constantly and knew it was going to be a staple of the restaurant. It was at the point where my friend John Legend told me I was over-thinking it. He said, "Fry the goddamn bird. Put some flour on it and fry it. Don't overthink the bird." You want it to be a little bit different but not so different that the community can't recognize it. John was like, "You're overthinking the goddamn bird. Just fry the damn bird."

Charles' Country Pan Fried Chicken, 2839 Frederick Douglass Blvd., New York; Open daily, 9am-11pm

Photo by Charlie Perry/BFAnyc.com

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