Washington

Stop, Collaborate and Listen: Chef Brian Chandler Is Bringing Power to the People Through Fried Chicken

The Barn Burner and a fried catfish meal (Fridays only!) at Cookie’s Country Chicken. Meg van Huygen

It’s weird because at first you can’t tell if Quality Athletics is open. The smart metal letters spelling out the restaurant’s name still poke up from the awning on South King Street, and the patio still fills with people who look like they would hang out at Quality Athletics.

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Look again, though, because instead of yupgraded pub grub, they’re all chowing down on Southern fried chicken.

I mean, you don’t even need to look—the smell hits you first. On a Mariners’ game day, I floated through the door on a cartoon aroma cloud to find that Quality Athletics was gone. Burb’s Burgers and Cookie’s Country Chicken now share the space. Most of the crowd, it seemed, had followed the scent—or maybe the sandwich board—to Cookie’s.

When I showed up, Chef Brian “Cookie” Chandler himself was working the register. When asked for the menu item he thought best represented the restaurant, he brought back a pair of big old country-fried chicken breasts. My boyfriend raised an eyebrow. “Oh, the breast? That’s making a statement because it’s the hardest to do right. Easy for them to get dried out.”

Chandler looked him in his face and said, “Yeah, I agree. There’s definitely a higher bar to clear with a breast, and I think ours are the best around.”

Dude. We couldn’t argue. Meat was super juicy and briny, with a lightweight crackle to the fried batter, almost tempura-like but more crinkly and gnarly. I’m a giant mark for crinkly-crackly chicken skin, so I raved about that while my BF continued to express astonishment over the moisture level and flavor content Cookie packed into a chicken breast. Our nonbeliever asked aloud, with his mouth full, “God damn, what’s he do to them?”

It’s been a process. Originally from the Kitsap Peninsula, Chandler has cooked all his life, but he perfected the science of fried chicken while cooking for huge crews on oil boats in Louisiana.

Fried chicken on Sunday was a tacit requirement, and it took some trial-and-error before he had it down. He knew he’d nailed it when the crew started calling him “Cookie”—a term of endearment and respect. “It means they like your food,” he said.

The aforementioned fried chicken breasts owed their tricky balance of juiciness and flavor to 24 hours in brine, then 24 hours in a (secret) marinade, then the lightest of dredgings in a (secret) batter, and finally a stint in the deep fryer at 340° F. The result is fried chicken that’s sensational when it’s fresh and hot, sure, but it’s also honestly just as great several hours later, when you happen to be, say, taking a road trip to the mountains.

Cookie’s Country Chicken: Eat it on the hood of your rental car in the Lil’ Jon Restaurant’s parking lot in Bellevue, when you need a break from Eastside traffic.

Cookie’s Country Chicken: Eat it on the hood of your rental car in the Lil’ Jon Restaurant’s parking lot in Bellevue, when you need a break from Eastside traffic. Meg van Huygen

Chandler started serving chicken in Seattle in 2019. Cookie’s first popped up at Sneaky Tiki in Georgetown, and then bopped around town until December of 2020, when it finally settled in the old Quality Athletics spot.

Chandler seems happiest when he’s cooking en masse, another lesson he picked up during his maritime days in the Gulf of Mexico. “We fed a whole lot of people during COVID, donated a whole lot of chicken,” he explains, “In fact, ‘Whole team eats’ is the motto around here. It’s even on our staff T-shirts.” He also believes in paying his good fortune forward through local charity fundraisers, such as one for the Ballad Elks Lodge. There’s a form on the restaurant’s website where you can request Cookie’s chicken for your fundraising event, with the preamble: “Cookie’s Country Chicken will always be based on feeding the people.”

After the bone-in fried chicken, the Barn Burner sandwich is the clear standout on the menu. Cookie’s serves the sandwich Nashville hot chicken-style with pickles; nice and saucy. After that it’s the preternaturally creamy mac and cheese—comparable to Velveeta in texture, but it’s real cream. It’s like a savory milkshake, practically drinkable. (You can get it with the Nashville hot seasoning sprinkled on top, so do that.)

The hand-cut chicken “tendies” tap the same idea as that luscious fried breast, but they’re obviously boneless—and colossal. Deep-fried “caulinuggets” offer a fun veggie alternative to the chicken, and the fried catfish is solid. Our pretty honkin’ huge portion of beer-battered fries vanished before we could even really consider what we were eating or what the cooks did to make them so good. You want to dip them in the housemade dill-forward ranch dressing, so get some of that. Cookie’s does waffle fries too, which I regret not ordering but will make a point to pick up next time because you just know.

My god, it’s cauliflower.

My god, it’s cauliflower. Meg van Huygen

It’s all reasonably priced, too. “You can feed a family of four at my place for fifty bucks,” Chandler told me. “Ten pieces of chicken, three pounds of sides. I think that’s pretty good these days, don’t you?”

So far, Chandler’s success has only seemed to snowball. Earlier this month, Cookie’s Coastal, an outpost in the tiny community of Seabrook on the Washington State peninsula, saw its grand debut. Meanwhile, on a summer Saturday afternoon, the flagship store on King Street was chockablock with people, and there wasn’t even a game that night. And even though he has a permanent kitchen now, he still can’t resist a collab. Lately, he’s been focused on returning the early pop-up karma, spotlighting a different local bakery in his Sunday brunch menu every week. Recent examples include Sweet Nothings, Zylberschtein’s, the London Plane, and Boot Scootin Bread.

Cookie’s is still popping up as well, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. On that one gruesomely hot weekend in late June, they showed up at Great Notion Brewing in Ballard, selling (out) tendies and sandos and watermelon salad in the excruciating heat. Other recent cameos included shops at Shelter, Mean Sandwich, Good Day Donuts, and Bootleg BBQ.

“Those are our roots,” Chandler says. “We’ve always been really excited about any possible opportunity to cross-pollinate and help others. I just literally want to feed everyone.”

Cookie’s Country Chicken
121 S King Street
Seattle Wa 98104
(206) 707-5956

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