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Nashville Hot Chicken Taking Over Former Michelin-Starred Mexique Space

Fry the Coop is flying to West Town for its first Chicago location

Fry The Coop’s coming to West Town.
Fry The Coop [Official Photo]

A Nashville hot chicken restaurant will take over the space formerly occupied by Mexique, the award-winning restaurant from famed chef Carlos Gaytán. The first Chicago location of Fry the Coop, a mini-chain with restaurants in suburban Oak Lawn and Elmhurst, should open in May at 1529 W. Chicago Avenue.

Fry the Coop double fries its chickens and takes inspiration from Nashville chain Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, said founder Joe Fontana. Fontana uses beef fat to fry his chain’s chickens and fries. He feels it gives the food a better flavor. Vegetarians, like Fontana’s mother, could ask for an off-menu vegetarian sandwich, but that’s the extent of the meat-free options. Fontana opened Fry the Coop’s first location in 2017 in Oak Lawn. Over the next eight years he wants to open 15 locations in the Chicago area.

Mexique was a pioneering restaurant that fused Mexican food with French techniques. It earned a Michelin star in 2013. It thus became the first Michelin restaurant with a Mexican chef-owner in Gaytán. Fontana is new to the area but he’s quickly learning about West Town and Gaytán’s impact. Still, the space will see big changes. They’ll reconfigure the space to emulate the bar set up at Green Street Smoked Meats in West Loop. Unlike the suburban locations, Fry the Coop West Town will have a bar serving drinks in plastic cups. They’ll have a full bar with local beers on draft.

“It’s kind of a dive bar,” Fontana said. “We’re going from a Mexican Michelin star to a dive.”

The inspiration for Fry the Coop crosses into a few states. While living in California in 2016, Fontana ate at Crack Shack, a San Diego-based chain from Top Chef alum Richard Blais. Fontana became obsessed with the chicken sandwich which wasn’t labeled as Nashville hot. A worker filled him in, telling him that the sandwich was based on the Nashville hot style, a fiery crispy fried chicken sandwich. Fontana was hooked and began his recipe research, experimenting much to his wife’s chagrin, at home. Fry the Coop’s chicken comes in five different levels of heat. They only offer sandwiches unlike places like Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack and Hattie B’s which also serve pieces of chicken that aren’t between bread.

Fontana actually planned to start another restaurant chain, Meatball Republic, in Oak Lawn. A lease fell through and they pivoted to chicken. They source their chicken from Mar-Jac Poultry in Alabama.

The city will have to rezone the building to move the bar area, and that could push back the May proposed opening timeframe. But Fontana is excited to open in Chicago. They may even add brunch to satiate city dwellers. In an area near fried chicken options like Split-Rail, Luella’s Gospel Bird, Harold’s Chicken, and Parson’s Chicken & Fish, Fontana feels there’s plenty of bird for everyone.

“Everyone loves fried chicken,” Fontana said.

Fry the Coop

1529 West Chicago Avenue, , IL 60642 (312) 600-6198 Visit Website

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