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Good Gluten-Free Fried Chicken?

MAX's Wine Dive founder says, 'Why the hell not?'
Carly Yansak, 6:15pm, Mon. Jul. 8, 2013

The world can be a barren place for those who have to live gluten-free. Roaming store aisles; obsessively checking labels; always asking their server, "Is it gluten-free?" Possibly one of the most daunting challenges for the wheat-less population is finding (good) gluten-free versions of what we all crave (and need) sometimes: comfort food.

Max's Wine Dive Fried Chicken & Champagne
courtesy of Lasco Enterprises
One year ago, MAX's Wine Dive founder and CEO Jerry Lasco found himself barred from his favorite food after being diagnosed with celiac disease. Fried chicken? Off his personal menu. The dish has not only been a business niche for Jerry, but a passion.

"Fried chicken is something I've always been passionate about and craved," he remarked. "When I lived in New York City, we would go all over looking for the best fried chicken, from the deepest parts of Harlem to the streets of SoHo."

This desire, coupled with a love for wine, inspired the concept behind MAX's. Their slogan of "Fried Chicken and Champagne? ... Why The Hell Not?!" lets diners know they are in for a unique experience. "I wanted to create a restaurant that was unpretentious and demonstrates that wine isn't just about white table cloths or French food. It can go with anything. We picked two extremes – French snobbery and Americana picnic."

Max's Wine Dive founder Jerry Lasco
courtesy of Lasco Enterprises

And now, after his personal health revelation, Lasco is bringing a nouveau taste category to the classic. MAX's has recently rolled out gluten-free fried chicken. If the dish sounds too good to be true, it almost is. The concept has been in the works for over a year; Lasco and his team didn't want to do this if they weren't going to do it right. Creating a gluten-free batter with the correct texture and color was a huge challenge – so much so, it turned into a competition. In order to find the best recipe, Lasco invited chefs throughout the company to create their own gluten-free chicken to be judged by a panel of peers, which included the owner of a gluten-free specialty store.

The winning method was decided upon two months ago. The revamped batter is compromised of rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca with folded in dehydrated cauliflower and jalapeño spice. However, it wasn't as simple as just throwing this onto the menu. Lasco retrofitted each of his kitchens with new fryers, hoods, counter space, and cookware. “We’re not just slopping out different flour. We don't want any cross contamination," he explained. "We treated it to the extreme because of how bad the gluten allergy can be."

Even if there are no allergy concerns, cutting gluten out of your diet has, in the past year, become a major health trend. There are arguments to be made against gluten; it has links to certain disorders and reducing its intake has shown to increase energy, decrease digestive issues, and help with weight loss. It isn't just a mandatory choice, but one many people consciously make for themselves. Which is why I was excited to discover whether or not gluten-free chicken would actually taste good.

I sat up at the bar, waiting for the dish with a sense of trepidation. I couldn't stop thinking about a terrible experience I once had with gluten-free bread. How could fried chicken remain delicious with this strange, health conscious twist?

MAX's has figured it out.

Max's Gluten Free Fried Chicken
photo by Carly Yansak

Side by side with their regular fried chicken recipe, the gluten-free dish is clearly different even before the taste test. The color is darker, and the skin looks more like a shell than a crisp. It was intimidating to see the golden hue taken away, since we eat with our eyes first, but pigment makes no difference in flavor here. The gluten-free chicken has a denser texture, and the skin doesn't flake away as easily. I found it to be less greasy, even though the skin was crispier, and the spices were more prominent than in the regular batter.

Here's the kicker – I enjoyed the gluten-free chicken more than the original! I feel I've just forsaken an American classic by saying those words, but before you try me for treason, try it yourself. The best part is, you won't have to ask a confused looking server, "Is it gluten-free?” The menu at MAX's already has it labeled.

MAX's Wine Dive

207 San Jacinto, 512/904-111

www.maxswinedive.com

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