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A Saratoga Institution: Hattie’s Restaurant, Review

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Hattie’s: A Saratoga Institution

Fried Chicken, Mac and Cheese, Crab Slaw Salad…Hattie’s Has It

Hatties. Photo - Heather Bohm-Tallman PhotographyIt doesn’t get anymore Southern…or Saratoga than Hattie’s. Finding Southern home cooking in Saratoga Springs would sound about as likely as finding snow in July, but the fried chicken, collard greens, peach cobbler and rest of the carefully chosen menu is as authentic as you get. Hattie’s Chicken Shack opened in 1938, and in its 80 years in existence, the owners have only changed twice. Yet its famous chicken recipe has always been the same.

Hattie Moseley-Austin was born and raised in Louisiana, around 1900. A visit to her sister in Chicago serendipitously landed her a job as a seamstress with the A.E. Staley Family (aka The Starch King), and with the Staley family, Hattie began summering in Saratoga. After years of saving, Hattie moved to Saratoga permanently and opened her restaurant on Congress Street. The restaurant thrived there until 1968, until Congress Street’s urban renewal forced it to relocate to its current address on Phila Street. Hattie’s was open 24 hours-a-day during the heyday of gambling, speakeasies and jazz clubs. When someone asked Hattie to describe 1930s and 40s era Saratoga she replied, “It was fast, man; it was real fast. It was up all night.”

Over the years Hattie became known just as much for her fried chicken as her hospitality and big heart. Eating at Hattie’s was the whole downhome experience, with the atmosphere just as genuine as the food. Today, Hattie’s legacy continues on in the tradition of great food and friendly faces.

The restaurant serves up a variety of Southern and Louisiana cuisine, and is perhaps best known for its famous fried chicken–btw, when they call the fried chicken famous, it’s not an exaggeration. It really is famous. Hattie’s original 1938 recipe has withstood the test of time, taking on Bobby Flay (on his show “Throwdown!”) and winning, and was also recently named Best Fried Chicken in the US by Food and Wine Magazine.

Last Tuesday, when we visited, there were only a few people in the quaint, front dining area. Needless to say, stepping into Hattie’s was a welcome refuge from the bitter December night.

The restaurant’s decor is the epitome of southern charm, with its red and green checked tables, string lights, and red hen curtains to match. The green brick walls are covered from top to bottom in photographs of celebrity visitors (I sat near Baryshnikov), newspaper clippings, articles, accolades and other ephemera. There’s also quite the collection of domesticated fowl figurines, with a rooster statue here and a chicken there, tying everything together for an inviting, appropriate decor.

If you’re not in a chicken mood, but happen to stop by in the summer, the soft-shell crab slaw salad, corn on the cob and green beans are worth a gander. In the winter, Hattie’s changes out its menu, serving up some equally yummy cold weather Southern comfort food; I chose the mac ‘n’ cheese, chicken and dumplings, candied yams and succotash.

Chef Jasper’s Macaroni-n-Cheese. Photo by Aubree CutkompChef Jasper’s Macaroni-n-Cheese is far from your blue box variety. Presented in a mound, covered in crumbled biscuit and green onions, not too cheesy (but cheesy enough for a string of cheese to trail from your plate to spoon), Hattie’s mac n’ cheese definitely satisfies. Less is more, especially with this recipe, which consists of macaroni, extra sharp cheddar cheese, heavy cream, butter, nutmeg and a bay leaf. If you want to spice the classic up, there is an option to add in the famous fried chicken pieces or andouille sausage. You have until April to try/indulge/over indulge in the mac-n-cheese, and as delicious as it is, I would still only recommend the mac ‘n cheese if you have someone’s fried chicken dinner to take bites of. They should make it a Hattie’s rule: Every meal must be accompanied by at least one order of fried chicken.

Thankfully my boyfriend couldn’t imagine ordering anything but, so I was able to venture outside of our Hattie’s comfort zone guilt-free. He ordered his fried chicken with smashed potatoes and collard greens on the side, which in my opinion is as integral to the chicken dinner as ketchup is to french fries. He washed it down with an Abita Turbo Dog beer (one of four Louisiana beers), which was recently named the best beer made in America. It was an award-winning meal to say the least. The chicken was crispy, well-seasoned and perfectly cooked, hitting the spot, as did the potatoes and collard greens. The collard greens are a feat unto themselves, also cooked to perfection and as tangy sweet as they were spicy. It was another wonderful meal at wonderful Hattie’s. My only complaint of the night – in the complementary bread basket with biscuits and cornbread, the biscuits were sort of hard and the cornbread was dry. But I didn’t come here for the bread basket, and most times I don’t even eat from it, especially when you have to save room for all the fried chicken.

Don’t let my fried chicken banter steer you away from all the other gems on the menu, the chicken is that good, but so is the Shrimp Gumbo, Good ‘n Evil Chicken Wings, Breaded Catfish and Red Beans and Rice.

Aubree Cutkomp is an Assistant Editor for The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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