The AQ stands for Arkansas Quality. This restaurant sits right outside Fayetteville; actually, it’s one of those urban creep moments; Springdale, Fayetteville and Rogers, Arkansas have essentially all merged into one big urban center. Anyway, I absolutely love this restaurant. The décor is beautiful, all old, burnished wood furniture and gorgeous red wallpaper. Just inside the door is a giant statue of a rooster that stands around six feet tall; you’re supposed to rub his wattles for good luck. But if you’re standing in front of the statue, your luck is already good because you’re about to have some of the most amazing fried chicken of all time. If you take a right down one hall, you’ll come to an ancient registry book where people have signed in with name, location and comments for decades. You can flip to the front and find signatures from the forties; go find the current registry and you’re apt to see people signing in with locations as wide spread as Vietnam and Russia. And AQ has received bipartisan support; both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have dined on AQ’s fried chicken.
Well, enough background, let’s get to the real stuff, which is the amazing, amazing chicken. Today, I want to talk about Chicken over the Coals, which is probably their signature dish. More later on some other dishes. Anyway, this is three pieces of pan fried chicken and I’ll let their menu tell you the rest: “with that ‘grilled in the backyard’ charcoal flavor; seasoned with our famous lemon-pepper seasoning.” Allow me to translate that: WOW! This is definitely a totally unique dish that I’ve honestly never seen anywhere else; the AQ is definitely a must visit for this dish alone. The fried chicken is good on its own, tender and juicy, but those other flavors just massacre your tastebuds. It’s got that dark smoky taste of charcoal, a sharp twang of lemon and the bitter pop of black pepper. I took my first bite and literally said, “Whoa.” And I was genuinely not sure whether I liked it or thought it was dreadful. What I knew was that it was an incredibly strange, completely new taste for me and that’s pretty rare really; most good meals are refinements or perfections of previously experienced flavor, not entirely new taste experiences. I pressed on with a couple of more bites and by the time I was taking the third one, I was hooked. This is a breathtakingly original, incredibly delicious meal. I will warn you that it’s likely to be divisive; I can certainly see some people just reacting incredibly negatively to the flavor. It’s a mix that really doesn’t sound like it would work, but in my opinion it really, really does. But whether you love it or hate it, it’s a dish that I think everyone really has to try, simply because it’s so unique. Highly recommended. 4 stars.
tl;dr – mix of smoky charcoal, twangy lemon and black pepper tastes shouldn’t work, but it does; a masterful, totally unique, must-try dish. 4 stars.
Next time . . . we’ll get a bit more traditional but hang around AQ for a while. Next time, more from AQ, in more ways than one.