REVIEW

It’s all about the bird at Phil’s Chicken House. True, Phil’s has a wide-ranging menu, and in our experience, plenty of folks order things like beef tips, grilled ham, or baked fish, and they evidently enjoy those meals very much. Phil’s is usually packed at normal mealtimes. Phil also offers bounteous daily buffets. Nonetheless, in our experience, which spans over 40 years of dining at Phil’s, it’s all about the bird.

Home-style picnic salads — macaroni, potato, slaw — are on the salad bar. They are the perfect accompaniment to Cornell chicken.

Phil Card founded his chicken joint in the 1960s, serving up rotisserie-cooked chicken basted with the Cornell Chicken potion invented by the late Professor Bob Baker in nearby Ithaca, NY. It’s the constant basting with Cornell Chicken sauce that, in our opinion, makes Phil’s bird one of the all-time greats in America. Yes, we said all-time greats, and that comes from people who have enjoyed the hot chicken of Nashville, the famous fried chicken at Stroud’s in Kansas City, and Willie Mae’s soulful poultry in New Orleans. They are all great but no greater than Phil’s.

Chicken noodle soup is also available at the salad bar. The broth tasted ersatz to us during our last visit but for decades we’ve always found it to be a satisfying homemade-tasting potion, with big pieces of chicken and soft noodles.

Unlike those other chickens, Phil’s is not fried. And unlike most superlative roast or grilled chicken, the skin of Phil’s bird is not at all crisp. Instead, what happens to the chicken at Phil’s, and at all chicken joints that use the Professor’s basting recipe, is the skin slowly renders down and becomes imbued and coated with the heat-kissed remnants of the basting sauce. The skin becomes a thin, soft, mahogany-hued, flavor-packed wrapper around juicy, fall-apart tender flesh. It is utterly addictive.

In our opinion, the single best part of a Phil’s chicken is the wing.

A word about the buffets: for about the same price as a half-chicken dinner, you can avail yourself of a buffet that includes all the chicken you want, plus all sorts of other dishes. So the buffet is the way to go, right? We say no. Far as we can tell, they don’t put dark meat on the buffet, and dark meat is Phil’s true glory. Furthermore, the pieces on the buffet often seem to be lacking their full allotment of skin, perhaps having fallen off as the chicken was cut up. We always order our chicken à la carte. Sue like white meat; Bruce prefers dark. We each order half a chicken. Bruce performs quick surgery on the creature. Then we trade. Perfect.

Phil’s usually has a seasonal dessert available, like this blueberry pie. They say the pies are homemade but we’ve always found them to be OK but nothing memorable. We did once enjoy a very fine strawberry shortcake at Phil’s.

Even if you don’t get the buffet, you do get to go up to the salad bar part of the buffet, where you can help yourself to chicken noodle soup and excellent, home-style potato salad, macaroni salad , and cole slaw. These are perfect with the chicken, much better than the mashed potatoes and gravy that comes with your dinner. We do have to note that, while we’ve always loved the homemade-tasting chicken noodle soup (be sure to dig deep with the ladle to get the good stuff), on our last visit the broth tasted as if it started as a powder. We’ll have to keep an eye on that.

You know what’s even better than the chicken at Phil’s Chicken House? The chicken Phil cooks outdoors at events around the Triple Cities. Throughout the summer months, there always seems to be a fire department, school band, or town festival that has asked Phil to cater the festivities. At such events, Phil’s team sets up grilling facilities and cooks the chicken over coals, and usually sides it with Phil’s good picnic salads. If you think the restaurant chicken is magical, just wait until you taste it done over fire! The trick is finding one of these shindigs. Do a little digging, ask around, scour the internet, give the restaurant a call – you should be able to track them down. No luck? Don’t want to do the research? Dining in the chilly months? Well, you’ll just have to settle for one of America’s great chickens at the restaurant.

1208 Union Center Maine Highway
West Corners NY 13760
607-748-6855
Phil’s Chicken House’s Website
Phil’s Chicken House on Facebook

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BEST THING TO EAT: Chicken