Were I a wagering man, I’d bet that MCL Restaurant and Bakery has had fried chicken on their extensive menu every day since their first location opened in 1950. Given that and the fact you can’t swing a dead cat in Indianapolis without hitting an MCL, it seemed fait accompli that Sherrel and I would visit one on the Indiana Fried Chicken Tour. MCL is an Indianapolis institution, with nine locations around the metro. The chain also reaches Muncie, Anderson, Richmond, Terre Haute, one city in Illinois, and four cities in Ohio. I know their location at 2370 W. 86th St. best, so that’s where we went. We brought our colleague (and frequent Down the Road commenter) Dani along.
MCL is a cafeteria. So you might think that the three of us, who all hover around middle age, would signficantly drop the average age in the place just by showing up. That was not the case. Our fellow diners were an even mix of those past retirement age and people around our age. Could it be that cafeterias start to gain some allure after you turn 40?
But I digress. MCL prides itself in homemade, fresh food. Given the dizzying array of choices as you pass through the line, they must work very hard every day to deliver it. I was momentarily distracted by a giant, juicy beef roast all pink in the center, just how I like it. Dani was tempted by some baked tilapia. With steely determination, we averted our eyes from the bounty as we ordered what we came for.
To me, a classic fried chicken meal involves mashed potatoes and green beans, so that’s what I chose. But many other vegetables were available, in even greater variety than the main courses. I had a diet soda with my lunch; coffee and iced tea were also available.
Even though I favor dark meat, I like to sample both dark and white meat when when on the Tour. Unfortunately, the menu board offered all-dark and all-white meals, but no mix. That didn’t stop Sherrel from ordering a breast and a thigh anyway, which I didn’t notice until it was too late for me to do the same.
The coating was very crispy, almost crunchy. It was mildly seasoned and a little salty. My thigh was plenty juicy, the leg less so. Sherrel reported that the breast was “one of the juiciest I’ve had.” By the end of the meal he placed this chicken among his favorites on the Tour. I was trying to decide what flavor the meat had when Dani declared it bland and I realized she was right. Clearly, the coating was meant to carry the flavor. But still, we were all impressed with this chicken, which tasted like it was fresh from the fryer.
I was less enthralled with the vegetables. The green beans were a little limp, but to their credit plenty of salty bacon bits were mixed in to add flavor. Given the amount of bacon, I expected the beans to be fatty, but they weren’t. I wished I had noticed the fresh green beans when I went through the line. Dani did, and she judged them crisp and very buttery. The potatoes were an outright disappointment. They were thin and smooth and had an off flavor, which Sherrel decided must be the flavor of the box from which they came. The gravy was salty but otherwise not flavorful, and had very little body.
I finished off my meal with a piece of cheesecake. I’ve eaten at MCL several times before and know that their cheesecake is a winner. I like straight classic cheesecake, and I like it plain, and MCL is always happy to oblige. And it helped ease my sorrow over the potatoes.
My lunch came to just over $14. The cheesecake was the most expensive item at $4, so if you’re looking for lunch at around $10 just skip dessert. The chicken and sides were plenty of food by themselves.
Even though I wasn’t overly thrilled with my sides, I’m certain I’ll come back for more fried chicken at MCL. With so many locations convenient to me, and so much variety every day, it’s an easy choice. But next time I’ll look for those fresh green beans, and maybe I’ll break from tradition and skip the potatoes.