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Fried Chicken is Out, but Jodie's is So Much More

For the time being, the restaurant's much-loved and renowned fried chicken is not available. But the broad menu and unique atmosphere mean this is still one of Albany's must-visit eateries.

For the past month or so, certain weekend patrons of  have been disappointed to arrive at this pocket-sized eatery expecting its famous fried chicken, only to find it crossed off the menu. 

Reviews of Jodie's often rave about the fried chicken, which, for more than 20 years, was a staple weekend offering.

That all changed about six months ago, when a health inspector paid a visit to the restaurant, and asked a fateful question: "Where do you keep your chicken?" 

Anyone who's visited Jodie's is familiar with the tight-squeeze setting, which both  and provides an open view into the diminutive kitchen where, these days, grandson, Charles Garrison, works his magic. 

Take a quick look around, and you'll see there isn't much space to prepare, or store, more than 200 pieces of chicken, which go through a labor-intensive process to ready them for the weekend demand. 

The health inspector, Royston said, had received a tip that the chicken was prepared and stored off-site.

This had been the case for 22 years, he added, but the process had been off the official radar. Due to space contraints, the chicken has always been prepared and stored in the kitchen at Royston's home. 

"Someone didn't like how we were doing things," he said. "It wasn't a customer. No one has ever once gotten sick off our chicken."

Off-site preparation isn't in line with restaurant food safety rules and, in June, Jodie's pulled the item from the menu to comply with the health inspector's dictate. 

"The day they told us we couldn't have chicken, I cried," said grandson and cook Garrison, who's 25. "I went home and had a long drink."

Jodie's menu may be the most diverse around, so there's no shortage of other delectable offerings. Seemingly every possible combination of eggs, grits, potatoes and meats are posted on the wall behind the register in a dazzling array.

In addition to laminated pages promoting the "Obama Special" and "Gabe's A+," a slew of other offerings are taped up on smaller sheets of paper with handwritten descriptions. 

Want a grilled cheese with a hot link and an egg? You got it. Interested in a combination that includes grits with cheese, smoked barbecue pork, two eggs and a grilled English muffin? "J.R.'s Plain Breakfast" has you covered.

If you can't find the perfect combo on the wall, or would rather throw caution to the wind, just ask Jodie and Charles to make the decision for you.

(This reporter tried this approach on a recent Friday and ended up with two eggs expertly cooked, over easy, on a bed of crispy hash browns settled atop a mound of creamy grits. There was also a flavor-packed slab of sausage and two buttermilk-y pancakes involved. Breakfast heaven? Check.)

It's worth noting that, when the restaurant first opened, said Garrison, fried chicken wasn't even on the menu.

But what of the famed chicken? Garrison and Royston recently posted a sign that reads "We're temporarily not serving chicken because of circumstances beyond our control."

It hasn't stopped customers from wanting more information, but Garrison said it can be emotional to explain the situation again and again.

Royston did want to make it clear that, though the item isn't currently available, "There's nothing wrong with the chicken." 

In fact, a description by Garrison of its preparation leaves one with little room to worry, and more than a bit of a hankering to try a bite: The sink is first washed out with hot water and Palmolive soap, which is followed by a bleach-and-hot-water scrub. That's rinsed out with cold water to clean and cool the area.

The chicken is loaded into the sink, which is filled up with water. The meat is soaked in water and lemon juice for four hours. The feathers are removed, along with the fat, leaving clean skin and meat. The chicken is seasoned and left to marinate in the freezer from Monday through Saturday, when it's cooked to order.

"At Jodie's, everything is cooked to order," added Royston. "Ticket by ticket, so don't be in a hurry."

As it turns out, Jodie's has been looking for a new location, so fried-chicken lovers may not be out of luck forever. Royston was looking into a space in El Cerrito, but it didn't pan out. A Brentwood location also fell through. 

Royston wants an open kitchen, to keep the cooking process transparent, and needs a place outfitted with a range hood, which can cost upwards of $10,000.

Spaces that offer both haven't been easy to come by, Garrison said. 

"We would like to stay in Albany," added Royston, "but we need help."

How long will it take someone to start a "Bring back Jodie's fried chicken" campaign on Facebook...?

Everybody makes mistakes ... ! If there's something in this article you think should be corrected, or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email her at emilier@patch.com. 

Ira Sharenow August 01, 2011 at 08:41 PM
For the summer we were treated to nice pictures. I look forward to finding out more about the pool construction delays and associated costs. Will the district receive a refund because of the delays? Are the classrooms ready? What happened to the families who “fessed up” about using false addresses? What are the enrollment goals of the district? What are the capacities of each building? Where do the legal and non-legal students come from? In general, what is happening with the overcrowding issue? What is up with open governance and the district’s inability to post minutes in a timely manner? Are board members really going to defer questions form the media to Marla (see current agenda)? Anything new on the lawsuits that AUSD faces (PE classes, etc.) I think when those who advocate for the current inner circle at AUSD are writing what are called news articles and Marla and her allies are the sources for a great preponderance of the information and quotes, some are going to have questions about balance.
Michael Cabanatuan August 02, 2011 at 07:19 AM
Not to interrupt Ira's repititious off-topic rant, but it sounds like the concern about Jodie's chicken is that it's not prepared in a commercial cooking facility. That could probably be remedied to the satisfaction of the health department.
Allan Maris August 02, 2011 at 06:57 PM
Jodie is an artist. If you want 'Robot" food, please go elsewhere. Thanks PATCH for the article. I need to get back to Jodie's more often. Thanks Jodie for all you do for our community.
Michael Valladares August 02, 2011 at 09:05 PM
+!
Em Segmen August 07, 2011 at 06:37 AM
Clearly this is not a "food handling" issue ... it's a legal issue. Catering your wedding generally involves offsite food prep, often in a home setting. Good home cooking is almost universally better than commercial cooking. Fast food franchises universally have offsite prep that is open to inspection. There is no issue of shoddy food prep practice when considering all the standards. It's a legal call. My condolences to Jodie and those who thrive on his small business practice. Small business is over 50% of American gross domestic product yet subject to laws often created to regulate corporate business environments. Probably every small business in the Bay area can be nit-picked on a variety of technicalities that local inspectors can very safely overlook in the absence of complaints. Thank goodness for the courage of small business entrepreneurs. May our community practice a surplus of positive regard during times of economic deficit. That's all that community ever is ...

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