Fried chicken is the gospel when it comes to fundamental Southern cooking. In New York City I've scratched around a lot of places looking for the best birds and have mostly been happiest in Brooklyn at Pies 'n' Thighs and Commodore. But now the East Village has The Cardinal, a laid-back, Brooklyn-style roadhouse founded by chef/co-owner Curtis Brown, formerly of Bubby's, the band Bad Wizard and North Carolina. His fried chicken ($17) is plump and moist; even though it's free range it must not have done much in the way of exercise. A thigh, drumstick and breast are piled on a plate, the bronzed skin having just the right amount of crunch and salt. Two sides are included in the price, the best being fried okra and creamy potato salad. I also liked the sides (all $5) of baked beans punched up with pork and slow-cooked green beans ($5), which made me realize a mushy texture isn't always wrong. The only side that let me down was bland mac and cheese ($5). The Cardinal has commendable barbecue too, including tender brisket, smoky ribs and incredibly tasty hot links. A barbecue plate is $21 and turned out to be plenty for two of us one night. Like the chicken, the meat comes from responsible farms (grass-fed beef, heritage pork). Also in The Cardinal's favor -- a lack of pretense vis-à-vis wine, such as a juice glass of Grüner Veltliner ($10) from a screw-top. After two visits, I want to go back for more, try Brown's catfish ($16) and smothered pork chops ($18). But it's going to be tricky since I'll want that chicken every time.

The Cardinal
234 E. 4th St.
(212) 995-8600
thecardinalnyc.com

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