Stroud’s Oak Ridge Manor (Kansas City, MO)

Winner, winner, chicken dinner. It’s a classic quote from most any gambling movie (to the point where most gamblers and dealers alike are sick the phrase). It’s also the classic, heck, iconic American dish. But to be honest, it’s actually pretty hard to find a good chicken dinner these days. Over the decades most of the fast-food franchise versions of it have morphed into a poor quality imitation of what they once were (don’t even think of going to KFC for a good chicken, for example, and it’s a shame, since when it is done well it is a true masterpiece of American cooking. Luckily, though, there are still a few existing places that truly know how to do a good fried chicken, and execute it without taking any shortcuts. Of the great places still around for chicken, Willie Mae’s is near the top of the list. Hollyhock Hill in Indianapolis is another. Prince’s for the Nashville “Hot Chicken” variant. And, if you find yourself in the Kansas City area, it’s a shame if you don’t make the time to go get some fried chicken at Stroud’s.

Stroud’s is a Kansas City institution, and indeed, over there years there have been several Stroud’s locations, but I always recommend their oldest existing one: the Stroud’s Oak Ridge Manor Northeast of Town. Located in a large, sprawling log cabin structure, it’s everything you think of when someone says “Country Fried Chicken Restaurant”. Red-checkered tablecloths. Round tables with condiments and crackers. Waitresses dashing about with big pitchers of iced tea. Every available vertical surface covered with some sort of charming country bric-a-brac. Sure, you could go to their Overland Park location, but then it’s got all the ambiance of eating in an office supply store. No, definitely go to Oak Ridge Manor, especially if it is your first time at Stroud’s, and enjoy all the “choking our own chickens since 1933” signs.

Menu-wise, they’ve got a more varied menu than you might think, including KC Strip Steak, chicken-fried steak, hamburgers, pork chops…. But stop with all that, there’s exactly one thing you should be ordering as your meal at Stroud’s, and that’s the “regular dinner”. That’s a half chicken (breast, legs, thigh, wing), served up with your choice of potatoes (although if you’re not getting the mash with gravy, you’ve got some splainin’ to do), some green beans, and a basket of cinnamon rolls for dessert. Sure, it’s a bit pricey ($17.95 this time), but it’s a lot of food.

So, now we come to the chicken. About 30 minutes after sitting down, they bring out all of the chicken dinners family style, so you’re soon facing a giant plate of chicken in front of you. And, . There’s no shortcuts here, this is pan-fried chicken in all of it’s glory: a tender and juicy interior just teeming with flavor. A nice crispy but light breading that holds in the juices and gives both a meaningful crunch and some extra flavor to it the underlying chicken. This is pretty much fried chicken perfection. This is pretty much the dish that inspired most modern deep-frying, and the folks at Stroud’s are still masters of it. I can only list a small number of still-existing places that are even in the same league as Stroud’s.

The mashed potatoes are done right as well, actual mashed potatoes with some still recognizable chunks, served up with a very well executed and flavorful cream gravy that perfectly complements both the chicken and the mashed potatoes. The green beans? Quite frankly, they’re just kinda there, but something’s gotta give some more color to the plate. Combined, it’s one of the few great fried chicken dinners that still being peddled out there. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

If you still actually have room, and maybe an extra belt notch or two, they close the meal with a big basket of surprisingly tasty cinnamon rolls (a lot of people just have them directly pack them to go). Nice, yeasty rolls with more than a little butter, sugar, and cinnamon, well, you’ll probably end up like I do afterwards thinking “What did I just do to myself?”.

Overall, Stroud’s is a classic chicken dinner spot not to be missed. That’s the long and short of it.

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