‘Standard’ chicken, uncommonly good

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If you find yourself already missing the home cooking you may have enjoyed over fall break, your next “home-cooked” meal is awaiting you just two miles from campus. Just like coffee, fried chicken is everywhere, and for good reason: it is delicious. Old Standard Fried Chicken, on Tower Grove Avenue, is not competing with any fast food chicken chain because it is on an entirely different level. This is country fried chicken at its best. If you doubt just how “country” this place is, a wall covering featuring a country field scene of crops against an idyllic blue sky is ready to remind you that this is country with a capital “C.”

Walking in, the place has the feel of a barn (the firefighters at the next table were also commenting on the “open frame” design of the restaurant). In fact, the building, which was formerly an auto body shop, was originally built as a stable in the 1920s for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s Mounted Patrol Unit. The cement floor and vintage lighting prove that this is about as country as it gets within just a short drive from campus. You will have to go soon if you want to enjoy the patio seating at the front of the restaurant, otherwise plan on waiting for a table at this no-frills chicken shop.

If you are of age, enjoy some of the over fifty varieties of whiskey offered at the bar. In fact, all of the cocktails offered include whiskey in some form. As for food, you will not need a whole lot of time with the menu. It consists of only four parts: snacks, sandwiches, trimmings and fried chicken. Once you place your order, pick a song on the jukebox, and then prepare for the mouth-watering biscuits and chicken headed your way.

Keeping with the whiskey theme, even the bar stools are made from old whiskey barrels. This is the sort of place that uses paper towels as napkins, and for good reason. This is not health food, so health nuts steer clear, but then again, a little bit of fried chicken never hurt anybody.

One would be hard pressed to find a better fried chicken joint in town, and, as good as the chicken is, the biscuits and the mac ‘n cheese are nothing to skimp out on, either. Vegetarians would be more than satisfied with a full serving of mac ‘n cheese and a snack of fried horseradish pickles with a side of housemade ranch.

The biscuits are warm and tasty just as they are; still, try the yogurt sauce that comes with your meal for a strange but delicious fusion of Midwestern meets Mediterranean. The house-made hot sauce goes great with the crisp, warm chicken that you will likely have to eat slower than you want — mine must have come directly from the deep fryer.

The Midwestern/Mediterranean combo is not completely by accident. The owner, Ben Poremba, is from Israel and first came to the States as a teenager. The idea of the restaurant came to him over a glass of wine while at the neighboring wine bar, Olio, which he also owns.

Purportedly, Poremba declared: “I am gonna open a fried chicken place,” while those around him laughed. Forty pounds later, Poremba had tasted, tested and thought through his way to over one-hundred fried chicken restaurants across the country. The result is delicious. Saint Louis University ought to award Poremba an honorary doctorate in poultry because the food is just that good.

Again, fried chicken is everywhere, but not fried chicken like this. All of the chicken at Old Standard is sourced from an Amish co-op in Indiana. That means, the Old Standard pays a premium for their ethically-treated-and-sourced chicken, so biting through the signature crisp double breading is like finding a succulent surprise that is both tasty and ethical.

If you are looking for some comfort food, grab your ID, money and a friend, and head to Old Standard. Or don’t be afraid to go alone, for it’s a fried chicken experience like none you have had before.  You will not regret it.