Hill Country Kitchen‘s very inventive and finger-lickin’ bite sized chicken and waffles with ancho honey butter.  

It’s official: the best place to eat fried chicken in New York City is on the rooftop terrace at Yotel, in the heart of Midtown.

Especially when that fried chicken comes from world-renowned and up-and-coming chefs of the local variety.

Last Thursday, on the first night of Food Network‘s  NYC Food and Wine Festival, Untapped decided to stop in at an event called “Shake and Bake,” hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, Art Smith (formerly Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef), and DJ Questlove (of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon fame).

Naturally, the stars drew plenty of media attention, but what we were most interested in was the food.

Being from the south (well, from Texas, which still counts), I was a little worried that the local fare would not stand up to the crispy, delicious fried chicken that I’d grown up with. I have never been so happy to have been so mistaken. While there were certainly some New York City standards, like Red Rooster Harlem and Hill Country Kitchen (both delicious), we were more intrigued by the restaurants below, each of which stood out for different reasons.

Most intriguing (and scrumptious) use of fried chicken: The Smith

Fried Chicken Served on top of a Potato Latke  with Jalapeño-Apple Mash and finished with Maple Syrup

The Smith’s take on fried chicken is indicative of the way the restaurant approaches the rest of their food, which offers new takes on classic staples.  

“We are a very New York-centric restaurant, and we thought that the festival would be a good way to have people meet our food,” said Amy Power, who represented the restaurant. After we tasted the spicy-sweet and savory combo of their chicken offering, we were glad to have met the food at The Smith. (In fact, it was love at first bite.)

The Smith, which is famous in Manhattan for chef Glenn Harris’s stellar brunch, lunch, and dinner service, has two locations, one in Midtown East and one in the East Village, and they plan to open a new location on 63rd and Broadway in about a month. (We’re stoked about that, given that Untapped HQ is at Lincoln Center!)

Edible Awesomeness  (Chicken category):  The Brooklyn Star

Handmade Waffle Cones rolled and stuffed with Mashed Potatoes, Shredded Cabbage, Fried Chicken and topped with “heavenly” burnt onion chow chow and a black pepper honey

“This is the bomb,” said one of the Brooklyn Star chefs of their food item, and he was right. Although Hill Country Kitchen had a similar take regarding presentation, and while the two recipes were both wonderful (how could they not be?), we loved that The Brooklyn Star was able to spice things up a bit with their black pepper wing sauce while still maintaining their regular dude attitudes. Chef Joaquin Baca was there as well, making sure everything went smoothly; Baca is already well-known on the NY food scene for his joint venture with David Chang, Momofuku.

Started in 2009, and tragically burned down after almost a full, successful year, The Brooklyn Star now serves “a seasonal menu based on the philosophies, techniques, and traditions of American home cooking,” at the restaurant’s new location on the corner of Lorimer Street and Conselyea in Williamsburg. Guests who want to experience their excellent fried chicken can do so, but only if they plan on partaking of The Brooklyn Star’s family-style menu (3 person minimum, $20 each). Arguably worth it, I’d say.

Most kick-ass side dish: Ken & Cook

Macaroni and Cheese

Ken & Cook was the only table with a nod to macaroni and cheese, and while several other stands offered other sides, like collard greens or jalapeño cornbread, none could rival the cheesy, baked goodness behind chef Richard Diamante‘s creation.

As Jean-Georges alum Richard Diamante said at the event, “I am the standing cook at my restaurant, Ken & Cook. It’s our first solo venture; we’ve been open for about five months and it’s been going great so far.”

Certainly, we look forward to trying out the new restaurant. A well-reviewed joint with a contemporary American menu and a standout raw oyster bar? Count us in, any day of the week. You can find Ken & Cook in Nolita, on the corner of Kenmare Street and Elizabeth Street.

Best Southern Standard (including both dessert and entrees): The Blue Stove

Mini Sweet Potato Pies with a Bruleed Top with Homemade Spiked Brandy Whipped Cream

The pies are one of the many delicious homemade organic recipes that set the talented ladies behind the Williamsburg-based Blue Stove bakery apart from their competitors.

“I didn’t even think I liked sweet potato pie until I had this sweet potato pie,” said one of the cooks working behind the table with owner Rachel McBride.

Started by McBride to honor her mother after she died of cancer, The Blue Stove specializes in pies of all kinds, from quiches to savory pot pies to almost any flavor of dessert pie you can imagine. According to their website, the secret to The Blue Stove’s success is a combination of small-batch baking practices and the fact that they only use fresh, wholesome ingredients that are in season. Check them out at the corner of Graham and Withers Streets; you won’t be sorry.

Edible Awesomeness (Dessert category): Catch

Liquid Klondike covered with chocolate and potato chip crunchies, devil’s food cake, and chocolate potato chip cookie

“Liquid Klondike is a very liquidy white chocolate; it’s a ganache that doesn’t have a lot of white chocolate,” said Silva of his dessert. “We freeze it, then we robe it in chocolate and put it in the fridge so it stays cool. I think [this dessert] is fun–there’s a little bit of everything on it. We had to throw in potato chips so that Whoopi likes it!” he joked.

Chef Thiago Silva has been the executive pasty chef at CATCH in the meatpacking district since its opening, and is well-known for his innovative, quirky, and delicious dessert concepts. One of his other creations, the Peanut Butter Cup Three Way (a milk chocolate soufflé with peanut butter ice cream, a chocolate covered peanut butter popsicle, and a miniature peanut butter cup) is the dessert standard at CATCH. We recommend that you satisfy your sweet tooth by paying the restaurant a visit at 9th Avenue and W. 13th Street.

Coolest Chef Action/Most Nostalgic Dessert: First Prize Pies

S’mores Pie, made with graham cracker crust, milk chocolate custard, and homemade toasted marshmallow

Mother/daughter team Allison and Rhonda Kave, with First Prize Pies, certainly had the corner on the most interesting table to watch, given the fact that they were constantly torching the marshmallow tops of Allison’s homemade s’mores pies. Not to mention the delicious flavors packed into the tiny pies themselves; guests were actually fighting each other to get to the First Prize Pies table first.

“I kept experimenting and testing and testing it, and I found that using really high quality milk chocolate in the custard was most akin to that feeling of when you’re a kid and making s’mores with like, bad Hershey’s chocolate, but much better, you know? It’s actually my most popular flavor by far,” said Kave of the process behind creating her s’mores pie. Then, with a laugh, she added, “Also, I’m a little quasi pyro, and using the torch is really fun.”

Allison’s is a great story, too. She got her start in March 2010, after winning a pie contest with her signature Bourbon Ginger Pecan pie; now she runs her online pie delivery service partially out of her mom’s store in Essex Market, Roni-Sue Chocolate Shoppe. She also regularly hosts a table at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg and DUMBO, every Saturday until November 17.

The best part? These vendors are all local. Looks like I’ll be joining a gym, because I sure as hell am going to become a regular at all of these places.

Get in touch with the author @kellitrapnell