The Indiana Fried Chicken Tour: Kopper Kettle

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 ā€“ 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 ā€“ 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 ā€“ 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.

This was our third stop on the tour. The first two were both at Indianapolis soul-food restaurants, first Mississippi Belle and then at Kountry Kitchen.


Comments

29 responses to “The Indiana Fried Chicken Tour: Kopper Kettle”

  1. Diana Avatar

    Looks so delicious!

    1. Jim Avatar

      It was!

  2. IamSimplyTia Avatar

    The portion looks tiny. The chicken looks good though.

    1. Jim Avatar

      It was served family style — there was tons of food on the table!

      1. Todd Pack Avatar

        I’m pressed that you showed so much discipline at a family-style restaurant!

        1. Jim Avatar

          It wasn’t easy.

  3. Dani Avatar
    Dani

    The Mayberry Cafe in Danville is a fine place for fried chicken. Be sure to save room for some cobbler!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Good suggestion! Sherrel and I are building our list of places to visit; we’ll add this to the list!

  4. vanilla Avatar

    Good gravy! Not something you get just anywhere you go.

    1. Jim Avatar

      No kidding! The art of making good gravy is increasingly becoming lost. I had my mother teach me how to make gravy a couple Thanksgivings ago and I practice it from time to time. It may not be an essential skill, but I’m sure it’s one that will reward me and my family every time I exercise it!

  5. Todd Pack Avatar

    If you’re ever passing through Nashville, may I suggest Monell’s, where the food is served family-style, and Arnold’s, which is a simple meat-and-three but is also Tennessee’s only James Beard Award-winning restaurant. The fried chicken is incredible, but the chess pie is killer.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I do pass through Nashville from time to time — thanks for the tips!

  6. ryoko861 Avatar

    A beautiful restaurant on the outside! But it doesn’t seem that the food matched the ambiance. The noodles in the soup were probably klusky style, usually made for soups and pot pies. They’re not like egg noodles that are much thinner. Klusky is thicker so they don’t dissolve in soups. Do you think the chicken is home made or just “homestyle”? You shouldn’t have to drown your mash potatoes in gravy to disguise the taste of the “instant” flavor. It’s not hard to make REAL mashed potatoes.

    Geez, I’m starting to sound like Gordon Ramsay.

    I think you can find a better fried chicken restaurant. Can’t recommend anything here in PA if you’re ever in the area. Everything here is either pizza or chinese.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I’m not sure I understand the difference between homemade and homestyle, but I had no doubt that the chicken was entirely prepared on the premises! Agreed on the potatoes, though. I’m sure the noodles in the soup were klusky style, and was thus surprised that they were kind of mushy.

      1. Lone Primate Avatar
        Lone Primate

        I think “homeSTYLE” legally means it’s okay if it came that way out of a box and it’s never been touched by human hands or seen by human eyes till it came out of plastic the homestylin’ robots lovingly shrink wrapped it into. :) Sort of like, you know, “orange-flavoured” means “made nowhere closer to Florida and its oranges than Wheeling, WV”.

        1. Jim Avatar

          Ah yes, like the homestyle frozen dinner I ate tonight!

        2. ryoko861 Avatar

          Lone Primate is right, it’s not homemade if it came out of a box. Homemade is made from scratch. It’s a term that’s geared to make you feel comfortable. Yes, the frozen dinner you ate was probably “homestyle”….just unlike mom used to make!

  7. Scott Palmer Avatar

    Awesome! If you didn’t already have a technical career, I’d say you have a future as a restaurant critic. :-)

    I’m pretty sure that I’ve been to the Kopper Kettle, but it was a long time ago. Seems like a good time for a repeat visit.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Heh, maybe I can fall back on being a restaurant critic if this software thing I’m doing doesn’t work out! :-)

  8. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    “I think if you fried the fender of a Buick in lard, Iā€™d find it delicious.”

    LOL :D

    I’m not sure this counts towards a recommendation specifically of their chicken, when you mull it over. :)

    1. Jim Avatar

      Frying chicken in lard is going to cover a multitude of chicken sins in my book.

  9. Denny Gibson Avatar

    I stopped at the Kopper Kettle several years ago when it was early enough to be welcomed but late enough to be the last customer of the day. I wasn’t aware that they did family style serving when I entered but soon learned. As they explained to me later, the normal rule for a solo diner is to start them off with a double order of all the sides and replenish if necessary. The cooks really wanted to start clearing the kitchen once my meal was prepared so they sent out triple orders. My table held a truly embarrassing amount of food.

    1. Jim Avatar

      If it had been me, I would have taken it as a challenge!

      1. Lone Primate Avatar
        Lone Primate

        Yeah, but you look like you can get away with that, Jim. ;) We’re not all so lucky. :D

        1. Jim Avatar

          I’m not as lucky as I was in my 20s and 30s, but yeah, I’m still pretty lucky.

  10. Rob Slaven Avatar

    Well done! Though I will say that the idea of any car part friend in lard is far from tempting. :) Great post!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Well, my teeth probably aren’t up to chewing on steel, even if boiled in oil.

  11. J P Avatar

    I am very late here, but wanted to chime in. This place was a special-occasion restaurant for my Mrs’ family in her youth, and we have been there 2 or 3 times in our decades together. Sadly, the last time was a huge disappointment.

    The potatoes were absolutely instant – a deadly sin for a “homestyle” restaurant if ever there was one. And the gravy you loved so much was almost inedible for the salt. Mind you, I love salt. I put it on almost everything and make it a practice to ask for extra packets when I order french fries in a drive through. It may have been an accident or a bad batch, but it was like someone measured it in by the cup. When I make a face and say something is too salty, it is really, really, really salty.

    The chicken was OK – certainly nothing wrong with it. But we have transferred our allegiance to the Iron Skillet that is a lot closer to home.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      What an incredible disappointment to hear.

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