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Aug 17, 2008 01:08 PM

Keaton's in Statesville and the "dipped" chicken phenomenon

I visited Keaton's a couple of weeks ago and was really impressed, with their chicken at any rate. Their chicken makes up for a lot of what is lacking otherwise. We were first greeted by a sign on the door proclaiming "Ice tea today!" When a BBQ place has to advertise they have ice tea, it should give one pause. Once inside, we discovered there was a lot the restaurant didn't have that day: no entrees other than chicken (I wasn't interested in anything but the chicken, but other people in my party asked) and at lesat half the sides on the menu were AWOL as well. The counter person was rather terse, which bothered my wife, but I figured we got off easy--my dad reported that last time he'd visited, the counter person berated the customers in line for only ordering white meat, strange since this is an option on the menu and you pay more for it!

I risked provoking the staff and ordered a quarter portion of white meat chicken with mild sauce. For sides, I settled on the beans and the french fries. I'm pretty sure the former had seen the inside of a can and the latter had seen the inside of a freezer. The plate came with bread, which was, somewhat puzzlingly, a hamburger bun. Enough quibbles though, the chicken was sublime! It was lightly battered or maybe just floured, fried (not sure if pan or deep, I've heard people claim both), and bathed in a slightly hot, slightly sweet, vinegary sauce that left a pleasant tingle on the lips and had me using the aforementioned bun to mop up the last traces after the chicken was picked clean to the bone. I also tried the hot version of the sauce, which featured more heat and less sweet. I preferred the mild.

While basking in a post-chicken-and-sauce-inhaling glow, one can amuse (or trouble) oneself by reading all the prohibitions posted on the walls. No bare feet allowed, nor bare torsos, nor profanity, nor loud talking, nor firearms unless one has authorization from the local sheriff's department (they must be regulars). This place does not exude hospitatliy, but the chicken is good enough to make up for that, no doubt.

What is the orign of Keaton's style of BBQ chicken, I'm left to ponder. According to their webiste, it predates the "invention" of Buffalo wings by about a decade. Reid's in Granite Quarry features a similar style of fried chicken in a hot, vinegary sauce. My dad says he actually prefers Reid's. I've now had both and prefer Keaton's. I believe BBQ King in Charlotte also does a BBQ chicken which is basically fried chicken dipped in sauce, albeit more of a tomato sauce than a vinegar one. Is this pattern random or is "dipped" fried chicken an underground foodway of this part of NC? Thoughts?

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  1. There used to be a place on the road between Kilmarnock and Whitestone Virginia which had as its a "chicken sandwich". My memory of this is somewhat hazy, for reasons I will deny upon interrogation, but it was a fried chicken breast, bone in, dipped in a slightly spicy sauce, between two pieces of spongy white bread (i.e. Wonder bread). It was heaven at about 2am, when the place was frequented by locals from the "juke joke" across the highway and white kids who had been at their own "juke joint" in town and had run out of stupid stuff to do like stopping their cars at the top of Whitestone Bridge, getting out and sitting on the edge of the bridge. And they say life in the country is safer than the city.............

    But to get back on topic, I am guessing it is a southern, African-american thing, which is why you (and I) are not that familiar with it. I remember it being quite wonderful, though.

    3 Replies
    1. re: VaNC

      ah I remember it well....well, not really all that well for probably the same reasons as you...wasn't their name Crosby's? Went there after many oyster fests...

      1. re: wellfedred

        Yes, Crosby's that's it! I can't believe someone else knows it. It was a great place.

        1. re: VaNC

          Mr. Crosby had the freshest well seasoned chicken with just a layer of mayo on two slices of wonder bread- all the bones included. Many a 2am-3am visit was had. Mr. Crosby also imparted a lot of wisdom to anyone who sat at his counter-- he was a great self-made man. He is missed.

    2. Sorry your experience was unfavorable... Keaton's is what one refers to as a "dive", and not somewhere to go into with pre-conceived notions.. Doesn't look like much facility wise, but their specialty - in this case, the chicken - is outstanding. Everything else is "window dressing", as folks make the pilgrimage for the chicken and usually nothing more.

      Not sure how much bbq they actually sell now, but after trying it twice in addition to the chicken, I've not ordered it again. As for the sides, the mac & cheese is homemade, not sure about the rest...

      The hamburger bun is standard fare with the chicken and is a great compliment to it. I hope they never change that, or the paper plates served wrapped in wax paper, or the paper towels on the tables.

      As for the service, as much business as these folks do, everyone can have an off day. I've been stopping there for years and have seen, at times, what you described as far as attitude from the help. I am always cordial and let their quirks / attitudes go because I'm there for the chicken and not their dining company.

      If you think this was bad, you should have gone there years ago when Mr. Keaton was living and seen the sawdust on the floors... He was a good guy, but atmosphere wasn't on the menu. Great chicken, however, was and still is. So much so it's worth a drive from Raleigh at least once a month just for the food. Many of my friends have been stunned on their first experience when I've taken them there, but so far not one has vowed never to go back. They've even started taking their own groups there for some of the best chicken ever. Hopefully you'll go back again, but if you don't thanks for saving a piece for us.

      4 Replies
      1. re: goodeatsinadive

        You misread me--I would say my experience was quite favorable based on the chicken alone. I'm no stranger to "dives" and this place didn't disappoint.

        Since my family had visited Keaton's before, my "pre-conceived notions" were actually pretty accurate. However, all of Keaton's idiosyncrasies were secondary to the chicken itself, though I found them interesting and in some cases amusing. It's clear this place is being somewhat overwhelmed by its popularity, and I don't really blame the staff for being somewhat abrupt. I didn't take it personally. I would definitely return. And next time, I'll get a half chicken instead of a quarter.

        BTW, have you tried Reid's chicken?

        1. re: Low Country Jon

          Yea, at Keaton's it's all about the chicken. In fact, not too long ago I posted (and blogged) about a recent experience there. Pretty much similiar to yours. Loved the chicken, as usual, but wasn't impressed by the sides (fries, slaw and beans) and the service is always a bit cool - but it doesn't make me love that chicken any less, that's for sure. It's funny, I also got a kick out of all the signs telling you what you cannot do. I especiallly liked the one that said "no photographing staff w/o their permission). Obviously, they've been overrun w/ foodies in recent years. Ha!

          Next time get a couple bottles of their sauce to go. Here's a link to a recent post on a food blog about Keaton's (w/ pics):

          1. re: Low Country Jon

            Sorry I misunderstood you.

            I haven't tried Reid's, but will make it a point to do so. Do you know their hours of operation, or do they have a website?

            BTW, you should check out Keaton's website and listen to Ray Charles sing...

            1. re: goodeatsinadive

              I'm not sure about Reid's hours, and I don't think they have a website, but here is their contact info:

              (704) 209-0905
              408 S Salisbury Gq Ave. (Hwy 52)
              Granite Quarry, NC 28146

              They are just a couple of minutes off of I-85.

        2. I've been there only once, last Oct, 2007. From the conversation while we waited in line to order, until we finished, is was definitely a unique experience. From what I could see, everyone orders the chicken, and we found the sides to be homemade and excellent as well. All of those signs on the wall are a scream, like the one that said something like "If you are seated by a waiter/waitress <there were no wait people in the place the day we were there> stay in your place, do not get up and walk around as this may cause you to have bad service" or something similar.
          I would definitely go back for that chicken, which has to be a micro-regional recipe.


          1. Yes, it's all about the chicken at Keaton's. They call it BBQ chicken, but I think dipped describes it better. It doesn't have a sauce coating the way we traditionally think of BBQ chicken. But, boy, is it good. My first time there ( a Fri nite in Sept '04) I got there about 8PM and I got the last table available. Waited a solid hour for my order (so did everyone else). It was so good, I would have waited 2 hours. They can sell you (or ship) the sauce and a sheet on how to prepare it at home.
            It's a true roadfood kinda place--just a shack off the beaten path that all the locals flock to. And for good reason.

            1. I've never heard the term "dipped chicken"; "BBQ chicken" in North Carolina almost always means baked, fried, or wood/charcoal cooked chicken with a hot, vinegary sauce that's a lot like eastern NC BBQ sauce. A lot of BBQ places sell it- lots of people go to B's Barbecue in Greenville for the chicken, not the BBQ. I wouldn't call it a secret thing by any stretch of the imagination.

              10 Replies
              1. re: Naco

                Yes, but BBQ chicken is rarely ever fried in my experience, which is what makes Keaton's and Reid's different to my way of thinking. If you know of other places that do the fry-and-then-dip method, then please add to the list. This seems a very worthy area of exploration!

                1. re: Low Country Jon

                  Don't forget BBQue King in Charlotte...they do this 'dipped' BBQ Chicken...yum yum

                  1. re: Hapy

                    Yep, I mentioned BBQ King in my original post. It's been many years since I've had their chicken, but my memory is that the sauce they use is relatively thick and sweet, more of a western NC sauce than an eastern NC vinegar and pepper sauce. Is that right?

                    1. re: Low Country Jon

                      Yes...and it was featured on Foodtv's Diner's, Drive-in's, and Dives.
                      Here's a link to their web site


                      1. re: Hapy

                        I drove straight from work from Charlotte to Spartanburg last Thursday and came back w/ mac and cheese, a while mild bird and slaw. My dh came home from his drawing class only to find that I'd been on a mini-roadtrip all evening. The slaw was sweet, not a tangy and peppery as I prefer (Honey Monk's has raised my slaw expectations to an impossible degree). The baked mac and cheese was great. It was a small square - I wished I'd ordered more. Now, the chicken. Amazing. The flavor changed depending on the quality of the skin and how submerged in sauce it had been. It was a much more complex flavor than I'd expected. I honestly expected a who;e chicken cooked like a hot wing. How wrong I was. The place was kinda quiet. And the staff were especially nice to me (okay, they were flirting). A great meal and a great roadtrip Thanks for giving me the itch to see what all the fuss was about!

                      2. re: Low Country Jon

                        My husband (a big Keaton's fan) tried the dipped chicken at BBQ King last weekend and was pretty disappointed. He won't be going there again, at least for that. Nothing can touch Keaton's in both our opinions. I know it has its warts, but take it in stride - the chicken is worth it. I have heard that Ted's Kickin' Chicken in Winston-Salem has a similar dipped chicken, but I have not tried it. Anyone else?

                        1. re: atruebluedevil

                          Thanks, you've saved me a trip to BBQ King. I'll be forever faithful to Keaton's. :)

                    2. re: Low Country Jon

                      Lancaster's in Mooresville (and now Huntersville) does a fried then dipped chicken.

                      I need to get to Keaton's ASAP.

                      1. re: HungryGrayCat

                        Yes, you do sister. I ain't lyin'. I did a post on my blog about my last visit to Keaton's and just yesterday I posted about my using keaton's bottled sauce to do my version of their dipped chicken.

                        If you go to Keaton's, do yourself a favor and pick up a couple bottles of their sauce.

                        1. re: HungryGrayCat

                          Lancasters is really great also. I like their pork alot!