I would spot Da Chicken Coop across the narrow parking lot as I approached Coop's West Texas BBQ. Both Lemon Grove restaurants are the work of namesake owner Bradrick "Coop" Cooper, which made me hesitate a moment. Chicken to the right, BBQ to the left.
2605 Lemon Grove Avenue, Lemon Grove
I'd wonder: should I ignore my BBQ craving to try Coop's fried chicken? The guy's smoked meats make all the local foodies gush — myself included — so I definitely wanted to find what he can accomplish with batter and a deep fryer.
I'd wonder again: do I have the appetite to do both? A half pound of pulled pork, coleslaw, red beans & rice, and corn bread; then an order of chicken and waffles? How could I squeeze in a few ribs?
Life's filled with hard choices sometimes, and in the case of Coop's I found myself choosing BBQ every time. Until at last, I set out from my house with a hankerin' to finally try that fried chicken; only to find Da Chicken Coop had closed. I'd waited too long, and missed out.
That was last winter, and I kicked myself over an order of hot links and collard greens at Coop's. Those spicy sausages made terrific consolation.
But last month, I heard Da Chicken Coop had reopened, and dutifully set out to dig in to a plate of the well-recommended fried chicken and waffles.
The place is basically a kitchen with a patio. You order at a window, where the friendly folks behind the counter tell me the reopened Coop has simplified its menu. Options include a chicken strips or dark meat, served with fries or waffles. Small and large portions of each range from $7-16. You may also do Pollack or catfish. Eating with a friend, I split a large dark meat on waffles and small chicken strips with fries.
The chicken strips are boneless white meat. Looking at the photos taken from Da Coop's first go round, the dark meat pieces used to be served bone-in. But the pile of chicken thighs stacked atop my waffles were boneless.
Which made them quick eating: crispy, crunchy on the outside, juicy inside. They were served with Louisiana style hot sauce, which I applied liberally until I thought to ask for a serving of BBQ sauce. Then I combined those and really started to enjoy myself.
Without the sauce it's great chicken — especially the dark meat — but milder than its competition: not quite as juicy as the southern fried style over at Crispy Chicken; not quite as flavorful as the pickle-brined gourmet take down at The Crack Shack. And I've got a real soft spot for the lip-smacking paprika crunch of the boneless pieces served at Tender Greens' downtown location.
But Coop's biggest competition is himself. You have to really want fried chicken to ignore the fact you're only 70 feet from Coop's famous BBQ, a feat that gets tougher when you spy the smoker in the parking lot, and its aromas waft your way. But even if that pulled pork is objectively better, heed my cautionary example and make the effort to try this fried chicken. Because it's still here.