Some priceless New York dining institutions just don't get the press others do simply because they are in out-of-the-way, or less-desirable neighborhoods. And so the 100-year-old bar or 50-year-old deli will be covered exhaustively year in and year out simply because its in the East Village or Cobble Hill—that is, the areas all the bloggers and journalists either live or like to hang out.
I can be as guilty as any of such professional laziness, though I do try to get to a neighborhood that is not my own at least four or five times a week, and a borough not my own once a week. I had first heard of Charles' Country Pan Fried Chicken years ago, but it wasn't until last week that I hauled myself up to the far eastern corner of Harlem, on Frederick Douglas Boulevard, where Charles Gabriel does business.
It's not a flashy place. You'll miss it, if you're not keeping a sharp eye out. From the outside, it looks like a run-of-the-mill, low-fi avenue restaurant with a crummy awning. Inside, however, it's soul food heaven. A cook is busy turning and turning again fifty pieces of chicken on a large, deep circular skillet filled with oil—a cooking technique different from simple deep-frying and one drawn from Gabriel's native North Carolina.
Prices are rock-bottom cheap. For $11, you get two pieces of chicken—either the country pan friend type, or barbecued, smothered or baked—and two sides, which include greens, mac and cheese, black-eyed peas, red beans, okra, yams, and other delectable dishes. The only two drinks available are iced tea and lemonade, both homemade. More people take the food to go, but there are four or five tables if you want to stay. I stayed and enjoy some of the best fried chicken I'd ever had—crispy and juice and not overwhelmed by batter.
Gabriel started out selling his chicken out of a truck about 25 years ago. His first storefront business, at the current address, had taken out for about six months when a car plowed into the shop. He reopened in 2009. You have to take the 3 train all the way to the end of the line to get here, but it's worth it.