I hate fried chicken. I think I mentioned this before, on National Fried Chicken Day, that I’m that weird kind of person who doesn’t like the taste or the texture of most traditional fried chicken recipes. (However, fried chicken sandwiches don’t bother me, and if I’m alone with no one to watch me I’ll house a dozen buffalo wings like no one’s business.) You will still see me at the KFC or Popeye’s on 14th Street, however, for one reason: biscuits. Motherfuckin’ biscuits! They’re possibly the best thing that has come out of the South, and most definitely one of the best things to come out of the doors at Popeye’s. And although we consider them a staple of Southern American cuisine, they’ve been around for much longer than that: biscuits have been baked and treasured for their resilience and portability since ancient Egypt, and has been a part of a soldier’s balanced breakfast (or, well, their entire breakfast) since the Imperial Roman armies. “Hardtack” is a kind of biscuit that, while unappealing in taste, is baked hard and can be transported without spoiling for years as long as it stays dry. Historically, biscuits can take quite a beating and still get your belly full!
But the biscuits we usually think about aren’t military-grade hardtack, or even the crispy, cookie-like biscuits you find in Europe. Southern American biscuits are light, fluffy balls of unsweetened dough, kneaded and baked to perfection, and usually softened with butter and doused with white gravy. They’re meant to flake and fall apart as you pull them apart, and are perfect for both sweet or savory meals. The technique of creating a biscuit is a tricky thing, as you must fold your dough just the right amount to give it that fluffy goodness. Cooking specialty stores like Williams & Sonoma make special kneaders and circular cutters to get the art of baking biscuits down to an automated science, but any old Southern belle will tell you it’s all down to the expertise of the baker in the end. It’s why places like Popeye’s are quick fixes for New Yorkers like me, who just want a Southern biscuit without actually flying down to Atlanta.
But let’s be honest here, we’re in New York City, and you can get anything your culinary heart desires, and that includes homemade, fluffy Southern biscuits just the way you like them. Biscuits are coming back in a big way at New York’s hot brunch spots, but one of the pioneers of the biscuit revolution has been Egg, a Williamsburg breakfast nook opened in 2005, that serves sweet, Southern recipes just like they do back in South Carolina. That’s where the chef and owner is from, and George Weld takes his biscuits just as seriously as his grandmother did when she created the recipe. He serves his with country ham, cheddar cheese, and fig preserves. It’s a little more high-class than a Southern breakfast table, but it still brings up all the nostalgic memories of the South and all the wonderful tastes that go with it. This is worlds better than anything you’ll find at KFC, believe me!
135 N 5th St (between Bedford Ave & Berry St), Williamsburg
“Biscuits like your Southern grandma used to make, these beauties are tender, luscious and best eaten heaped high with the restaurant’s broiled tomatoes ($3).”–Time Out New York
“egg’s Country Ham Biscuit ($8) has been on my to-do list of eating for years now, but never, ever finding myself in ‘billysburg, it had become something like a bruncher’s White Whale. I may have danced a little dance when said whale hit the table: Well, hullooooo. That’s a two-handed, feather-light work of fall-apart biscuit magic, layered with deeply savory (read: salty, but not too salty) Kentucky country ham, sharply creamy Grafton Cheddar and housemade fig preserves.”–An Effing Foodie
“To create his recipe, Weld–a South Carolina native–conjured up memories of his grandmother’s biscuits and made batch after batch until he’d replicated them. The trick, he says, is to use bleached flour (for extra-fluffy texture) and very cold butter, then work quickly and mix with a light hand. And don’t forget Weld’s favorite biscuit topping: molasses.”–Tasting Table
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Country Ham Biscuit with housemade fig jam and Grafton cheddar. Sweet, salty, savory, biscuity. I did not want eating this to end. This heaven of a biscuit was served with a side of grits. Oh my lord. Best damn grits I’ve ever had. Spend the extra buck-twenty-five for them to mix in some Grafton ched. I splurged and ordered a side of hash browns and again, oh. my. lord. I don’t know how they make them. Unicorn tears probably as they were that magical. As crispy as crisp can be, but ever so soft and moist inside.”–Ciara G.
“COUNTRY HAM BISCUIT is the best breakfast sandwich that I’ve ever had. Country ham served on a biscuit with homemade fig jam, Grafton cheddar, and a side of grits that made me Mmmmm aloud. That’s getting 5 stars from me. Press coffee was good, too, but this is really all about that country ham biscuit. Also, you can eat that breakfast sandwich if you miss brunch, because they were serving breakfast at 5pm. Can’t complain….”–Sheena B.
But, I know, some people just don’t do biscuits for breakfast. They’re nice and delicate when they’re paired with a flavorful side of ham or covered in country gravy, yes, but some people want more from their biscuits. They want a biscuit that’ll hold up not only to breakfast, but to dinner: deep fried buttermilk-breaded chicken legs, slow-smoked racks of ribs, barbecue that’ll stick to your fingers and your belly. This, to me, is where you want to sop the rest of your meal up with a biscuit! Go up to Harlem to get some of the best Memphis-style barbecue you can get your hands on in New York, at the Rack & Soul on 190th Street. Fried chicken and baby back ribs are at the top of the list at this barbecue establishment, and each plate is piled high with meats, sauces, and sides to stir your appetite. A hearty, heavy meal like this requires more than just your everyday flaky cold-water biscuit; you need something just as hearty to stand up to the rest of the meal. For that, Rack & Soul has created a biscuit-cornbread hybrid, that still maintains the light fluffiness of a biscuit but has the added crunch of the cornmeal inside. They’re glazed with honey to provide extra sweetness, a neat foil to all the savory meats you’ll have on your plate. There’ll be a basket of these set down right when you order, and even more available as a side with your entree; Rack & Soul wants you to get hooked on these babies so you’ll be coming back for more, even if you’re not all about the barbecue.
Rack & Soul
258 W 109th St (between Amsterdam Ave & Broadway)
“Culinary therapy kicks in as soon as the heaping basket of moist, honey-glazed corn biscuits lands on the table. For maximum tactile pleasure, order the stickiest options on the jam-packed Southern menu: short ribs covered in your choice of mild or spicy BBQ sauce, simple, creamy macaroni and cheese, and huge slices of homemade cake.”–Time Out New York
“Rack & Soul was a pleasant surprise, with the barbecue component every bit as satisfying as the fried chicken and soulful sides. I figured I’d like the place, but I wound up liking it a lot.”–PigTrip
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“one more thing. eat the biscuits! they are warm, just salty enough, and slightly sweet. the texture lies right in between a typical biscuit and corn bread. while you wait for your food, do not be afraid to pour a little bit of BBQ sauce on them and munch!”–Eric T.
“To start off with- the biscuits are amazing. This place presents a nice laid back dining experience. I came here with a friend who was visiting from out of the country and I was pretty set on ensuring that we went someplace that he would enjoy the food. From the minute he tasted the biscuits at Rack& Soul, , he was a fan. I ordered the half order of ribs, though I initially tried to order a full order and the waitress kindly let me know that I would likely not finish it. Thanks! She was right on.”–Nyota W.
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