WHERE TO EAT THE BEST FRIED CHICKEN? EVER? HERE IS THE ULTIMATE FRIED CHICKEN BUCKET LIST

As I was going through my morning routine, I saw a MSN.com roundup post from TheDailyMeal.com listing the TOP 50 best fried chicken spots around the country. I was pleased to see some of my favorites on their list but they have missed some gems.

Therefore, here's my top 10 favorite fried chicken places for the very best fried chicken in the entire USA. Add them to your travel bucket list (pardon the pun). While some of my favorites  are not on their list, don't pass them by.  After all, they did their research via the Internet. I did mine with GPS and a wet nap. Please post your own favorite fried chicken favorites in the comments! Where should I go next?

NOTE: The very best fried chicken I have ever eaten was made by my friend Sam Jackson. He won't give me the recipe. He said "over my dead body" so I have asked him to leave it to me in the will. When he does, I will open a Sam Ware's First Place Famous Fried Chicken stand. The second best fried chicken ever is my mom's Buttermilk Fried Chicken. She would make it every other Sunday after church and serve it with mashed potatoes and gravy and biscuits. I'm not going to make you wait until I die for the recipe... here it is.  Get the recipe...

MARTIE'S TOP 10 FRIED CHICKEN BUCKET LIST :-)

1. MR. D'S HEAVENLY FRIED CHICKEN /THE COUNTRY STORE/LORMAN, MS

You get dinner and a show when you stop in to see Mr. D. It was the best fried chicken I've ever had at a restaurant. Mr. D's "heavenly" fried chicken has a crunchy crust but is supremely juicy on the inside. I like to pull off large pieces of crust (along with the skin) and eat it while I wait for the hot-from-the-fryer chicken to cool off a bit. (Yes, I do this.) Even the persnickety Alton Brown has claimed Mr. D's as the best fried chicken he has ever eaten after an accidental stop during his Feasting on Asphalt road trip series. Stop in next time you find yourself in Mississippi, on 61, and just off the Natchez Trace Parkway. Better yet, make plans to go. And please be sure to ask Mr. D to sing for you. No website. Just call them. Phone: 601-437-3661

2. WILLIE MAE'S SCOTCH HOUSE: NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA (#2)

I made my first trip to New Orleans when I was only 1 with my Uncle Hugo and I've been in love with it ever since. No trip to New Orleans would be complete without a stop at Willie Mae's Scotch House. Do not make the mistake of saving it for Sunday dinner or your last night in town because they will be closed and you will be devastated. People get in line as early as 9AM for LUNCH! Ms. Willie Mae has won a James Beard award and too many accolades to list for her fried chicken. I like it because it is the chicken that most reminds me of my mother's. Three pieces will set you back about $10. Road trip, anyone? No website. You have to just show up or call. They close at 5pm daily and are closed on Sunday. Phone: 504.822.9503

Photos from Willie Mae's Facebook page. They don't have a website but close at 5pm daily and closed on Sunday.

3. YARDBIRD/MIAMI, FLORIDA  (#43)

I am in Miami quite often it seems, and the only place I make sure to visit each and every single trip is Yardbird. My first visit was quite memorable. It was in March 2012 right after we got out of jail during filming of Food Network Star. Actually, it was not a real jail, we were simply sequestered. But it truly FELT like jail for about three months. When we finally got to go out to dinner, we went to Yardbird. I have never, ever, tasted anything that good in my entire life. Paired with a cold Blackberry Lemonade, well, that made the whole jail thing almost worth it. It usually comes with some chunks of fresh, cold watermelon, perfect to cut through the "comfort" of the chicken. Save it for the end.

Fried Chicken pairs perfectly with Blackberry Bourbon Lemonade at Yardbird Southern Table & Bar in Miami. Photos borrowed from their Facebook page.

4. ARNOLD'S COUNTRY KITCHEN / NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE (#10)

Located in a red cinder block building, you might not think much when you first pull up to Arnold's. Don't let looks deceive you. This is one of the best meat and three's (meat and three vegetables for all of you non-southerners) in the USA and certainly, their fried chicken helped put them on the map. It's spicy but not so hot like the Nashville "hot" chicken that is so trendy. It has hot sauce in the brine and cayenne in the dredge but it won't burn your mouth off. You have to click on the website to see the list of daily specials. I promise you, you'll start looking for airfare. Everything scratch made. Go. Eat. Die happy. (Don't forget the pie.) Say hello to Luke Bryan if you see him in line.

Photos from the Arnold's Country Kitchen website and Facebook page. Left photo credit: Ron Manville.

5. WAYFARE TAVERN / SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA (did not rank)

If Tyler Florence wasn't a Southerner by birth, we'd have to adopt him. Tyler's Wayfare Tavern makes a real Southern Fried Chicken (his South Carolina grandmother taught him) and while country at its roots, it is a big city, sophisticated bird. Tyler brines with the traditional buttermilk but then low roasts the bird first before frying to order in a garlic and herb infused oil. Make no mistake this is real Southern style fried chicken, just slightly dressed up for church. I think it may be the garlic infused oil that Chef Florence uses that gives it a more elegant feel or perhaps the setting. Either way, you won't be mad at the $25 price tag; it seems a bargain compared to the $20 burger.  In case you want to make it yourself, here's the recipe...

6. THE LITTLE DONKEY/BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA (#35)

If you have not been to my hometown of Birmingham, plan a trip, even if just for the food. We have some fantastic restaurants around the Magic City, many of them part of the Jim 'n Nick's chain. The Little Donkey is their latest concept. It's a Mexican place. On my first visit, I went there to eat Mexican food. Now, I go there for the best fried chicken in town.  They brine it in buttermilk but infuse the brine with three different chilies for the subtle heat. It does take a while- about 25 minutes to get to the table- but that's only because they fry it to order. You can call in 205-703-7000 and they will get your order started if you're on your lunch hour. Tell them I sent you. Half a bird is only $14. Make sure to get the Elote: grilled corn on the cobb with Cotija cheese and dusted with ancho chili powder. And may as well have a Horchada while you're waiting.  

7. MOMOFUKU NOODLE BAR / NEW YORK, NEW YORK  (#3)

Why would I order Fried Chicken at a Noodle Bar? In New York City? Because rumor has it that David Chang can make a mean fried chicken and my friends made me go there to prove it. It's no rumor. There are two kinds. I loved the Old Bay version, of course. It is a flavor I love but never thought to put it into my dredge for fried chicken. Do it. I guarantee you I will from now on. You will see on their website that Fried Chicken has its own page. They call it "a large format meal" that means it is a feast that feeds 4-6 people. And you need a reservation booked way in advance. Gather your 6 best friends or some strangers off the street if you're in NYC alone. It's $125 for the chicken and all of the sides they bring with it... the little pancakes are fabulous. I didn't mention the triple fried Korean version that you also get with the feast... equally worthy if not superior. I did not take any photos that night. Or if I did, I can't find them. Here's a shot from their website.

8. LITTLE GOAT / CHICAGO, ILLINOIS (did not rank)

I love Stephanie Izard's Girl and the Goat and always stop in when I'm in Chicago. But lately, I find myself at her little sister, the Little Goat Diner. Mainly because it is a bit easier to get in and also because they have real deal fried chicken like we make at home. You get 3 pieces: breast, wing, and leg plus some rather delicious slaw (I never like slaw outside the South but she makes a nice one) that balances the little bit of heat you taste from the brine. Casual and yet very refined, this fried chicken is a lot like the Little Goat itself: as fancy as you want it to be. Eat your fried chicken on the rooftop on a warm Chicago day and you'll feel like you've traveled back in time to your Grandma's. Oh, and it is open for breakfast and is my favorite late-night place, too! Thanks, Stephanie.

9. DOOKY CHASE / NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA (#42)

Dooky Chase is another must in New Orleans. It started out in 1941 as a neighborhood sandwich shop and lottery ticket outlet. They soon hit the lottery themselves, growing into a highly respected culinary destination thanks to Chef Leah Chase. Dooky's has been a tourist favorite for decades but you know it is good when the locals will fight the crowds to get in. While known far and wide for their fried chicken, they are at their roots a Creole restaurant and on Friday night, Chef Chase prepares a special menu of local favorites. But we're talking chicken. It's crunchy. Extra crunchy, in fact., almost like bark. Ms. Leah has won awards for best fried chicken so many times, it is pointless to try to list them all. Make the pilgrimage. You must. And forget the dessert. Get another piece of chicken.

10. SEAFOOD AND CHICKEN BOX / TRUSSVILLE, ALABAMA  (did not rank)

Never in all my days did I think I would write a blog roundup that included Momofuku Noodle Bar, Stephanie Izard, and Seafood and Chicken Box in the same post. Here is it. I've been eating fried chicken from Seafood and Chicken Box since the 80's. When I was married, we would order every Friday night and take it home to eat. It is still great, all these years later although just oh-so-slightly different after they moved to their new location a few years back. Their chicken has a bit of a saltiness to the crust- not sure what they put in that dredge but I'm guessing onion and/or garlic salt. Doesn't matter. This fried chicken is so juicy, inside, so crunchy outside and with that perfect thick, heavy crust. Just the way I like it. The sides are just okay; nothing to write home about... with the exception of the hush puppies. They'd be worth the trip on their own. These old school places don't have websites. They are too busy making fried chicken. Phone: 205-655-7414

Photos: MartieDuncan.com by Arden Photography

Over the past couple of generations, I increasingly see that more folks will go out for fried chicken than make it at home. That's okay...  if any of these places are near you, I do not blame you. But if you want to start a tradition your family will still hold dear many years later, pull out the cast iron,  save up your brown paper bags and make some homemade fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy for Sunday dinner. Let one of the little ones shake the bag. And make sure I get an invitation. Boy, do I miss my mom. :(

TWO DAYS AWAY: WHERE TO EAT, SLEEP, AND HAVE FUN IN NEW ORLEANS

MARTIE ON THE ROAD: NEW ORLEANS

where to eat and stay in New Orleans

Because I travel all the time, I get as many questions about where to stay and where to eat as I do about anything else so I decided to write about them for you. Here are some of my favorite spots from my trips to New Orleans.

Ask folks to say the first thing that pops into their mind when you say New Orleans and their answer, 99.5% of the time is Mardi Gras. While I love the carnival atmosphere of Mardi Gras and all of the parades and celebration of tradition it brings, there is a totally different New Orleans. Plan your next visit when it is not Mardi Gras... perhaps around Christmas. It is my favorite time of year to be there. The streets, hotels, and homes are so beautifully decorated and the cooler temperatures and humidity-free days make it easy to really get out and explore one of America's most interesting and exciting food cities. The architecture and buildings- even the ones in disrepair, are fascinating. Make sure to look up as you wander the streets and alleyways. You might miss something spectacular if you don't!

WHERE TO STAY

Because I'm always on the road, a good bed with nice linens is important to me. And in New Orleans, I don't want to drive because parking isn't easy so I stay in hotels where I am close (walking distance or quick cab ride) to my favorite spots. 

The Hotel Monteleone: Is my favorite place to stay in New Orleans. A 4-star hotel right in the French Quarter, most rooms overlook the Mississippi or the Quarter. It has been owned by the same family for five generations. It feels like Paris- but the rooms are larger. The beds have luxury brocade linens which have a rich, old world feel. The hotel's famous Carousel Lounge-a revolving bar off the lobby- has become a bit touristy and crowded but still fun to sit and chat with people from all over the world over a Sazerac.

Hotel Monteleone: 214 Royal Street  New Orleans, Louisiana 70130 Phone: 504.523.3341  

JW Marriott on Canal: I'm a Marriott rewards member so Marriott hotels are usually my home away from home. The rooms are extremely nice with big, fluffy beds dressed in crisp, white linens. Important to me, a large bathroom with a marble vanity where I can actually put something more than a toothbrush. There's a rooftop pool (small, but still a pool) where I occasionally will relax and read a book, and it is walking distance to everything.

JW Marriott New Orleans • 614 Canal Street New Orleans, LA 70130 • Phone: 504.525.6500


WHERE TO EAT

There are an unlimited number of wonderful places to eat in New Orleans. Here are a few I never miss:

COFFEE I BREAKFAST

RUBY SLIPPER: Breakfast with a Milk Punch is one of my favorite treats and Ruby Slipper is one of my favorite places to have it. They use all locally produced or house-made ingredients and have been named one of New Orleans' best breakfast spots for the past few years. I like the corned beef hash and the Eggs Cochon. They have several locations. I always go to the one in the Quarter. RUBY SLIPPER  1005 Canal Street New Orleans, LA 70112 • Phone: 504.525.9355

CAFE DU MONDE: Do I really need to tell you about Cafe du Monde? It is a New Orleans tradition. Beignets. Chickory coffee. Enough said. (Take some cash. I don't think they take cards.) Get an order of beignets. People watch. Tip the street performers. Don't wear a black shirt. Plan on doing a lot of walking because you most certainly will not eat just one! I like the location at the French Market best. CAFE DU MONDE  800 Decatur Street New Orleans, LA 70116  Phone: 504.525.4544

CAFE BEIGNET: Alton Brown says these are the best beignets in New Orleans. So good, he featured them on an episode of Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate. I believe him. CAFE BEIGNET 334-B Royal Street, New Orleans, LA 70130 Phone: 504.524.5530

And Morning Call certainly gets a mention for their beignets. If you pass one, stop in. There was one in Metairie but it may have moved since I was there last. They don't have a website so I'm not sure.


LUNCH

CENTRAL GROCERY:  My first stop in New Orleans is always Central Grocery. Their muffuletta sets the standard for all muffulettas the world over. It is the bread that really makes the difference. Be sure to get one to go. You'll have a craving about midnight. Make sure to get a bag of made-in-New Orleans Zapp's kettle chips to go with it. I like the regular and the Voodoo flavor best. Central Grocery  923 Decatur Street  New Orleans, LA 70116 Phone: 504.523.1620

LUKE: Chef John Besh is well known to television foodies and his restaurants are all very, very good. August has won a Beard award and is one of the city's best. Dominica is popular with locals and tourists but I prefer its French cousin, Luke. A French Bistro with a New Orleans soul, Luke is a daily stop for me whether it is breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, dessert, or just a carefully crafted cocktail at the bar. In fact, it is my New Orleans office. Weekday specials are always excellent. Shrimp and Grits, Crab Bisque, and the Croque Monsieur or any of the fish dishes are hard to beat. I would be remiss not to mention the Vanilla Gateau Basque Cake with fresh berries. Always on the menu and always something I must have when I'm in New Orleans. LUKE • 333 Charles Street, New Orleans, LA 70130 • Phone: 504.378.2840

Top left: Vanilla Gateau Basque Cake with Louisiana Berries. Top right: Luke Shrimp and Grits. Bottom left: Chef John Besh. Bottom right: Selfie with John in Miami.

PARKWAY BAKERY & TAVERN: You certainly cannot talk about food in New Orleans without a discussion about Po'Boys. The Po'Boys at the Parkway are a local favorite and have won all kinds of awards and critical acclaim. The shrimp Po'Boy is my favorite- piled high with freshest fried shrimp on the freshest  bread you can find. They have oyster Po'Boys- Monday and Wednesday only. Stacked about a dozen high, these give the shrimp a run for their money. Hard to choose. PARKWAY BAKERY & TAVERN • 538 Hagan Avenue  New Orleans, LA 70119  • Phone: 504.482.3047


DINNER

PECHE: Donald Link's Peche caught the attention of critics, the Beard Foundation, and the press when it opened in the Spring of 2013. Before it turned one, the restaurant earned its first James Beard awards for Best New Restaurant and Best Chef South for Chef/Owner Ryan Prewitt. I hate it because it is now super crowded and hard to squeeze in but worth the effort if you do. I always nab a seat at the seafood counter in the back so I can watch the chefs at work in the kitchen. If you have a friend with you, order the whole fish. If not, do what I do and graze over the small plates like tuna dip, the Shrimp and Fontina Croquettes, or a the cup of the Shrimp and Corn Bisque. Fried Bread? Don't be silly, A must. PECHE • 800 Magazine Street New Orleans, LA 70130 Phone: 504.522.1744

RESTAURANT R'EVOLUTION: I'm not sure I can be objective when it comes to Restaurant Revolution. I happen to think Chef John Folse hung the moon and his partner Chef Rick Tramonto might have hung the sun. This restaurant wasn't named New Orleans restaurant of the year in 2013 for nothing. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you'll find me there for Eggs Sardou with Hollandaise and artichokes for brunch any Sunday. The Salumi is second to none and the traditions and heritage of Cajun and Creole cooking are found in dishes like Snapping Turtle Soup, Fire Roasted Oysters with Bienville Butter, and Creole Bouillabaisse. Expensive? Can be. But very worth it, especially for the jazz brunch, a big occasion, or holiday gathering. RESTAURANT R'EVOLUTION: Inside the Royal Sonesta Hotel  •  777 Bienville Street, New Orleans, LA 70130 •  Phone: 504.553.2277

OTHER FAVORITES YOU ABSOLUTELY WANT TO TRY

COMMANDER'S PALACE: Chef Tory McPhail walks in the shadow of legendary New Orleans chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme as Executive Chef of Commander's Palace and made the landmark his own with a James Beard award for Best Chef South 2013 to prove it. Located in the heart of the Garden District (a short walk from the St. Charles streetcar line) Commander's Palace is probably one of the best known restaurants in the world and one you do not want to miss. Go for brunch, lunch, or dinner... you can't miss with the Shrimp & Tasso Henican, a spicy Louisiana white shrimp dish or the Smoked Seafood Croquettes: crispy Gulf fish and Louisiana white shrimp with grilled Creole trinity,  ripped herbs, pickled mirlitons and spicy crab boil aïoli. But if I didn't go for anything else, I would go for the Creole Bread Pudding Souffle. COMMANDER'S PALACE • 1403 Washington Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130 • Phone: 504.899.8221

GALATOIRE'S: Where the locals go for lunch. My friends love this place for its old school tradition and classic favorites they've eaten since birth. Souffle Potatoes, Escargot, and their famous Oysters Rockefeller are standards. GALATOIRE'S • 209 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA 70130 • Phone. 504.525.2021

BON TON CAFE: For lunch or dinner. Highlights are the Turtle Soup, Bayou Jambalaya, and their other New Orleans signature dishes. The Rum Ramsey cocktail is a tradition! BON TON CAFE • 401 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA 70130 • Phone: 504.524.3386

THE GOOD STUFF

HANSEN'S SNO-BLIZ: No trip to New Orleans in the Spring or Summer would be complete without a trip to Hansen's Sno-Bliz. Hansen's is the original New Orleans snow ball and they patented the machine that makes that beautiful, smooth and silky ice necessary to achieve the ice cream like texture. The shop is virtually unchanged in decades... so not only is it simply wonderful, it is a cool experience as well. (haha- cool, get it?) I love the creamy ones. I love the fruity ones. Go early because if you don't, the line will be around the building. I dream of the Cream of Root Beer flavor called the Brown Pelican. AND yes. You have to have the condensed milk on the top. Divine. Simply divine. HANSEN'S SNO-BLIZ • 4801 Tchoupitoulas Street New Orleans, LA 70115 •  Phone: 504.891.9788

NEW ORLEANS AT NIGHT

THE SPOTTED CAT MUSIC CLUB: I'm often working when I'm in New Orleans so it doesn't often leave me time to go out on the town at night. One place I do love to go is the Spotted Cat. It is like a throw back in time with live music from legendary local players and the dancing goes on until 2am, even on Sunday night. It is called a jazz club but you'll find almost every kind of spin-off, too, like blues and funk. It is located in Fauborg Marginy, a bit off of the French Quarter. Take a cab over and there are always cabs waiting outside. SPOTTED CAT 623 Frenchman Street New Orleans, LA 70116

If you have a favorite place I should visit, hit me up on Twitter, Facebook or via email. I'd love to hear about it! Let the stars be your guide... safe travels. xo

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EVENTS: 7TH ANNUAL HANGOUT OYSTER COOKOFF

It's that time of year! The 7th Annual Oyster Cookoff is November 7-9 at The Hangout in Gulf Shores, Alabama. This event has become the biggest party of the year for me and is one of my favorite weekends on the Gulf. The weather is perfect, the crowds are gone, and the oysters are in season and absolutely beautiful. Best of all, it is FREE to attend!

 Come to the 2014 Hangout Oyster Cookoff November 7th-9th! We kick it off with a Craft Brew Festival on Friday night and wrap it all up with a Sunday brunch. Come hang out with us and enjoy the Gulf at the very best time of the year.

Come to the 2014 Hangout Oyster Cookoff November 7th-9th! We kick it off with a Craft Brew Festival on Friday night and wrap it all up with a Sunday brunch. Come hang out with us and enjoy the Gulf at the very best time of the year.

 Come join me for one of the best parties on the beach! The Hangout Oyster Cookoff is a celebration of the season: oysters, football, craft beers, and great friends! And all of this on the world's most beautiful white sugar sand beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Come join me for one of the best parties on the beach! The Hangout Oyster Cookoff is a celebration of the season: oysters, football, craft beers, and great friends! And all of this on the world's most beautiful white sugar sand beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama.

 Turquoise Place is always my home away from home on the Gulf Coast. The condos have huge kitchens and each has its own private hot tub on the balcony. AND a grill. AND the most beautiful view of the Gulf you will ever see. Paradise.

Turquoise Place is always my home away from home on the Gulf Coast. The condos have huge kitchens and each has its own private hot tub on the balcony. AND a grill. AND the most beautiful view of the Gulf you will ever see. Paradise.

I've asked my Season 8 Food Network Star friends to come back this year! Come meet Michele Ragussis, Linkie Marais, Nikki Martin, and Ippy Aiona. They will be preparing oysters their way on the BIG GREEN EGG stage beginning at 11:00 am.

I'm also bringing in one of my very favorite chef-friends as co-host for the party of the year... Chef Jason Roberts. You may have seen him recently on the Rachael Ray Show, or on The Chew, or on the Cooking Channel. This guy is one fierce chef! A Kiwi currently living and working in Australia and New York, he donates his time to help No Kid Hungry and has biked hundreds of miles to raise awareness and funds.

Jason and I are hosting a pairing dinner on the beach on Saturday night, November 8th at The Gulf with Ole Smoky Moonshine and New Belgium Beer.  My other Food Network friends will donate a recipe to pair with beer or moonshine. It's going to be a blast. Best of all, we will raise both awareness and funds for No Kid Hungry at a time of the year when they need it most.

For more information: HANGOUTCOOKOFF.COM