Arguably, fried chicken is the quintessential dish of Charlotte, and the preferred method of preparation is fried. Let's face it: The North Carolina piedmont has been perpetually the land of the crispy. After all, fish camps (a restaurant genre featuring fried fish) started along the nearby banks of the Catawba River, and fried foods such as dill pickle chips, squid, okra and even flash-fried sushi have found a welcoming home in Charlotte. But fried chicken remains at the top of the list.
Not surprisingly, astute restaurateurs have paid attention to this. In January, Shawn Wilfong (who also owns Mortimer's Café & Pub in the EpiCentre), Seth Wilfong, Martin Sprock and Brandon Viebrock opened the 144-seat Leroy Fox in the former Charlotte Hotel in Cotswold. (For newcomers, the Charlotte Hotel was an eatery.) Strikingly, the new interior bears no hint of its former occupant with its well-worn, gritty decor. According to Viebrock, the walls were "sanded to the bone."
Now the dining room is crisp, harmonious and modern with a sense of the Cotswold neighborhood. A collection of Charlotte street names highlights the entrance. A pleasant bar with multiple television screens flows along one side wall while the main seating area is divided by a parallel banquette with booths on the reverse side.
In only a few months, Leroy Fox has become a popular spot for families, and on the weekends, the wait can be 40 minutes or more.
Many come for the fried chicken. Eric Hedrick heads the kitchen crew, but the recipes have been developed by Viebrock, who enthusiastically describes his deep-fat fried chicken. He says the chickens are all-natural and kosher from South Carolina and Georgia. They are brined for 18 hours before dredging in their secret mixture, which includes cayenne and spices. These ingredients are well and good, but with chicken, technique is key, and Leroy Fox's chicken is fried to crackly perfection.
A similar dredging is applied to the hefty zucchini fries with their inherent textural contrast, a popular item on the starter list and served with a trio of sauces. Tasty grass-fed beef sliders are slathered with house-made bacon marmalade. A light touch is extended to a wrap stuffed to bursting with grilled tiger shrimp, lettuces aromatically seasoned with vinaigrette, slices of avocado, and flecks of bacon. Sides include the ever-present mac and cheese, fries, chips, mashed potatoes and a wan black-eyed pea salad. Desserts are not made in-house.
Leroy Fox's wine list is short; the beer list longer with a variety of local craft beers. The cocktail list includes a nod to its predecessor: The Providence Road with Jim Beam, Amaretto and pineapple juice.
If there's a weakness here, it's the menu's fondness for fried dishes, cheese and bacon. Only the veggie wrap and the house salad are devoid of meats or cheeses, but the entrée list offers grilled salmon and barbecued chicken. By late May, a Sunday brunch menu will be added.
Leroy Fox has all the trappings of a late-night summer hot spot with the new 44-seat patio somewhat isolated from the surrounding parking lot by a wall of wood. For now, though, noisy children and overcrowding have become weekend staples. But the cozy sense of closeness is easily relieved by one transporting bite of their fried chicken — a taste of home.
705 S. Sharon Amity Road. 704-366-3232. Hours: Sunday to Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.; Thursday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Live music Thursdays. www.leroyfox.com.