Sherrel and I finally ventured outside Indianapolis on our burgeoning tour of Indiana’s fried chicken restaurants. This was no small feat. We’re both busy with work and family, and so we had to plan this outing weeks in advance. We didn’t stray far from home, however – just 20 miles or so southeast to Morristown and its well-known Kopper Kettle restaurant.
The Kopper Kettle has been serving dinners since 1923, but the building has housed a restaurant and sometimes even a hotel since the mid-1800s. Many people passed through Morristown in those days, as it stood along a rail line and the old Brookville Road. The railway is gone, but Brookville Road still connects Indianapolis to Cincinnati. It’s US 52 today.
The restaurant looks like it would be right at home on a Southern plantation.
Inside, the decor was a little too whimsical for manly he-men like Sherrel and I. But when fried chicken is involved, we’ll brave even the most girly environs.
Kopper Kettle serves dinners family style, bringing big plates and bowls of food to the table for everyone to share. We ordered the fried chicken, of course, and our first courses arrived at the table almost immediately. First up was a little bowl of chicken noodle soup, which was rich and delicately flavored. The noodles could have been firmer, though. Next came a straightforward salad of lettuce (iceberg and romaine?), carrot bits, cucumber slices, red cabbage, croutons, and sweet and creamy homemade poppyseed dressing.
Soon the main dishes arrived – chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, corn, and rolls.
That the chicken arrived so quickly suggests that they prepare it in advance. Not that it affected the chicken’s quality on our plates – it was delicious. It appeared to be battered; the coating was substantial but not overly thick, firm but not quite crispy. Pepper was the most prominent spice in the batter. The meat inside was juicy (well, the breast was a tiny, tiny bit dry), but carried no special flavor, suggesting it was not marinated or brined before frying. We didn’t ask to be certain, but the flavor and mouth feel told us that the Kopper Kettle fries in lard. I think if you fried the fender of a Buick in lard, I’d find it delicious.
The green beans were seasoned and sweet, with just a touch of fattiness. The corn was firm and sweet but otherwise undistinguished. The mashed potatoes were smooth and not very flavorful; our second bowlful was runny. It made us wonder about their origin. Sherrel leaned in, arched an eyebrow, and whispered, “Instant?” But when you smothered those potatoes with the thick gravy, you no longer cared how they were produced. The gravy was the meal’s highlight, so deeply flavored and rich that it was far and away the finest I’ve ever tasted.
Sherrel bought my dinner in gratitude as I seem to always end up driving on our quest for chicken. While I forget exactly what my meal cost, it was around $20 with coffee and tip.