Fry the Coop turns up the heat on the chicken sandwich wars

Fry the Coop turns up the heat on the chicken sandwich wars

It’s hard to say whether Joe Fontana, the mastermind behind Fry the Coop and its unique line-up of chicken sandwiches, knew what was ahead when he opened his first “Coop” in Oak Lawn in 2017.

Joe Fontana. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Joe Fontana. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

But he was definitely ahead of the curve.

With chicken wars raging amongst the big chains like Popeyes, Chick-fil-A and Wendys, to name a few, chicken is hot.

And so is Fontana’s Nashville hot chicken which is currently available at Fry the Coop locations in Elmhurst and the Loop’s Wells St. Market in addition to Oak Lawn.

Another location, in the West Loop in the Mexique space formerly helmed by Michelin-starred chef Carlos Gaytán is in the works.

According to Fontana, this is just the beginning. He does not think it out of the question to see Fry the Coops across the country–perhaps even the globe.

Right now, he’s sticking to Chicago with plans to open 10 to 15 locations in the next several years.

Bubble and Chicken event at Fly the Coop's Wells St. Market location. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Fried Chicken and Bubbles event at Fry the Coop’s Wells St. Market location. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

We talked with Fontana at a “Fried Chicken and Bubbles” event at Wells St. Market that paired Nashville hot with champagne. An excellent combination, by the way.frythecoopfried-chicken-champagne-2

The creative menu and pairings for the evening kicked things up a notch with:

Nashville Wings
Drumettes with mild seasoning, “tallow powder”, toasted mini brioche
Paired with: Chandon Etoile
Cheesy Chicken & Waffles
Mac and cheese waffle bite, Nashville chicken nugget, pickle
Paired with: Chandon Blanc De NOIR
Nashville Hot Chicken Slider
Mini version of Fry the Coop’s classic Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich
Paired with: Chandon Brut
Hot Chicken Skins
Fried chicken skins dusted with our hot seasoning and vinegar powder
Pairing: Surprise!
Banana Pudding Bites
Homemade banana pudding wrapped in puff pastry dough, deep-fried, topped with bourbon vanilla Chantilly cream and vanilla wafers

Paired with: Chandon Sparkling Red

You’re not going to get this kind of originality at Popeyes.

The Fry the Coop story is an interesting one. Originally, Joe was thinking meatballs (perhaps due to his Italian heritage– and Sicilian Grandmother)–but after a meal at Crack Shack in California, he became hooked on Nashville hot.

And never looked back.

The Chicago area native (Villa Park) and former Willowbrook High School standout, flew California to return home and open his first coop.

Although Fry the Coop is nowhere near alone in the growing lineup of chicken shacks, Fontana’s creative recipes, passion and drive gives this emerging chain a lot to crow (or squawk) about.wellstnashvilleNashvillehotchicken

Fry the Coop’s chicken comes in five different levels of heat and four variations of the chicken breast sandwich: Nashville Fried Chicken (with a vinegar cole slaw), Chicken & Cheese (with two slices of American cheese), Spicy Butter Fried Chicken and Donut Fried Chicken (donuts in lieu of buns). 

The halal-certified chicken breasts are sourced from Mar-Jac Poultry in Georgia. They are tenderized and placed in a dry brine (cayenne, paprika, garlic power, onion powder, and brown sugar) for 24 hours. The chicken is breaded by hand and fried twice in beef fat.

The “Come Back Sauce” is a combo of mayonnaise, ketchup, chopped pickles, Louisiana hot sauce and pepper. 

Hand-cut fries follow the original McDonald’s recipe of using Russet Burbank potatoes fried in beef fat.

Beer is available at the Oak Lawn and Elmhurst location and a full bar is in the works for the West Loop location. Although the Wells St. location does not serve beer, it is available (along with bubbles) at the market’s Grand Central Bar.wellsstbarcu

Wells St. Market location

Menu: The Wells Street Market menu features Fry the Coop’s signature Nashville Fried ChickenSandwich ($10.49), Chicken & Cheese Sandwich ($10.99), Spicy Butter Fried Chicken Sandwich ($9.99), and Donut Fried Chicken Sandwich ($9.99). Sides include House FriesSeasoned FriesCheese Fries, and Coleslaw.

When and where: Hours: 11am – 4pm Monday through Friday. Wells Street Market is located at 205 West Wacker Drive. 312 614 4176. 

Other locations:  5128 W. 95th St. in Oak Lawn, 623 W. North Ave. in Elmhurst and 205 W. Wacker Dr. in Wells Street Market, and coming soon 1529 W. Chicago Ave.

For more information: visit Fry the Coop

Small Bites of Chicago

Contemporary Takes on Thanksgiving (and Black Friday) Dining around town:

Acadia (1639 S. Wabash Ave.)  The South Loop’s two Michelin-starred Acadia welcomes guests to a classic American Thanksgiving feast, with Chef Ryan McCaskey’s signature updated twists. The five-course prix-fixe features contemporary takes on the holiday with soup, salad, fish course, turkey, and dessert. 

Thanksgiving dinner will be served Thursday, November 28 from 1-7 p.m. $95 for adults, wine pairings for $55, and children’s menu by preorder for $35. Reservations can be made via OpenTable or by calling Acadia directly at 312 360 9500.

A Godfrey Family Thanksgiving at I|O Godfrey (127 W. Huron St.)

The Godfrey invites its friends and family, whether first-time visitors or neighbor regulars, to give thanks at its year-round rooftop lounge. The annual buffet feast at I|O Godfrey offers a hearty menu of Thanksgiving classics, such as  mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, roast turkey, butternut squash soup, and pumpkin pie, as well as family-style pastas, a prime rib carving station, a chocolate fountain, and a complimentary glass of wine for each adult guest. Little ones won’t be bored with I|O Godfrey’s play room nearby and football will play all day long on the space’s video wall.  

Reservations for The Godfrey’s Thanksgiving on November 28 from 12-7 p.m. can be made via or by calling 312 374 1830. Adults can enjoy the festive feast for $59/person, while children are $15/person.

About Last Knife (168 N. Michigan Ave.) About Last Knife (ALK), the modern steak bar on North Michigan Avenue, is offering a special Thanksgiving plate ($26) with slow roasted turkey breast, gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, and cranberry sauce.

Lawry’s The Prime Rib (100 E. Ontario St.) Glistening roasted prime rib isn’t the only meat option at Lawry’s this Thanksgiving. Drawing on its wartime beginnings during the 1940s, Lawry’s fills its famous silver carts with Roasted Turkey Breast and serves it tableside for a special Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmings including mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, sourdough sage dressing, candied yams, and cranberry orange relish. The Roasted Turkey Breast meal is available for $46, while prime rib fans can also celebrate the holiday with the Half Prime Rib & Half Turkey Entrée with all the classic Thanksgiving trimmings, also available for $46.

The Roast Prime Turkey is available on Thanksgiving only. Lawry’s The Prime Rib is open from 12-8 pm on Thanksgiving Day. For reservations, visit

“Dia Del Pavo”

Mercat a la Planxa (638 S. Michigan Ave.) This Thanksgiving, Spanish South Loop restaurant Mercat a la Planxa gives guests the option between a Traditional American Thanksgiving or a Spanish-inspired one. Mercat a la Planxa offers two prix-fixed three-course menus: the first is a Traditional American menu, which includes elevated takes on Thanksgiving dinner staples, such as a Roasted Apple & Cornbread Soup, a Turkey Roulade with an apple-walnut stuffing topped with zinfandel gravy, and a Pumpkin Cheesecake Tart. The Spanish-inspired Thanksgiving menu includes Turkey Bacon Wrapped Dates, a Turkey Breast “Cachopo” topped with a Giblet “Tempranillo” Salsa, and a Pumpkin Crema Catalana. 

The Thanksgiving menus are available from 1-8 p.m. on Thursday, November 28. 

Gobble Till You Wobble

The Signature Room (875 N. Michigan Avenue) The Signature Room is cooking up a “gourmet feast” on Thursday, November 28 from 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Guests will be welcomed with a glass of the Signature Room’s sparkling wine, followed by a buffet of chilled seafood, housemade salads, charcuterie, and a chef-attended prime rib carving station. Diners can then select an entrée from a seasonal menu that includes Roasted Turkey, Pan Seared Snapper, and Lamb Chops served with classic side dishes, and finish the meal with a lavish dessert buffet. Prices are $80 for adults and $35 for children aged 4-12 years old (no charge for children under the age of three). Reservations are extremely limited and can be made by calling 312.787.9596.

Black Friday

Sunda Chicago (110 W. Illinois) Black Friday marks the return of Sunda’s Night Market starting at 9 p.m. on Friday, November 29. Guests are invited to indulge in a late-night bash at the restaurant with a special menu inspired by popular street foods from Southeast Asian cuisines including Korean Fried Chicken Bao Buns ($7) with spicy gochujang glaze; Sake Hand Roll ($7) with salmon, avocado, and jalapeño; and Indonesian Fritters ($6). The menu also includes the option of three specialty cocktails for $7, Kirin Ichiban Draft ($5/pint), Sakura Boy Sake ($7), and a selection of wines. The entire menu ranges from $5-7 and is available from 9 p.m.-12 a.m.

Pop-Up Pie Shop

Travelle at The Langham (330 N. Wabash Ave.). Travelle will be offering a Pop-Up Pie Shop in the Plaza (directly in front of the hotel), bringing Pastry Chef Danielle’s seasonal selections including apple, pecan, and pumpkin pie varieties to pie-lovers everywhere. The desserts will be sold for $40 each on Tuesday, November 26 starting at 3 p.m. until they sell out. The pies will be packaged in beautifully designed pie boxes – perfect for holiday entertaining and giving as gifts.

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