The Indiana Fried Chicken Tour: Hollyhock Hill

Hollyhock Hill is in a class of Indiana restaurants that reminds of times gone by. We’ve visited two other such places on the Indiana Fried Chicken Tour: Kopper Kettle and The Iron Skillet. Traditional, genteel, and quaint, these places feel like stepping into a country homestead in how we all imagine 1928 must have been (which, incidentally, is the year Hollyhock Hill opened). They tend to be built into old houses, with interiors painted bright white and hung with whimsical decorations. Every table is a little bit different – one is round and covered with a short white tablecloth under a thick layer of glass; the next is rectangular with a brightly colored tablecloth; a third is oval with a frilly place mat at each setting. Ordinary glassware, flatware, and china are used, but are arranged so nicely that as you sit down you feel as though this will be a fine dining experience. Indeed, Hollyhock Hill and its ilk are as much about the experience as about the food.

Sherrel and I work a mile or so away from Hollyhock Hill, which is at 8110 N. College Ave. on Indianapolis’s Far Northside. Because it’s so easy to get to, we have visited before on our lunch hour, but not since beginning the Indiana Fried Chicken Tour. Hollyhock Hill is open for lunch only when a large group has reserved the restaurant for an event, so call ahead to check availability. They recommend reservations for dinner.

Hollyhock Hill specializes in family-style dinners and while they’re known for fried chicken, they offer steaks and seafood too. Lunches are plated and limited in portion. All of their meals begin with pickled beets and an iceberg salad with a sweet house dressing. Sherrel liked the beets but they’re not my thing and I stayed away. The salad is very well executed and is exactly what it means to be with mild, sweet flavors, but I wished for more and ate only a few bites.

Biscuits came next, to go with the apple butter brought with the salad and beets. Aren’t they gorgeous? Unfortunately, they were dense and tough, though applying a little apple butter helped dissolve my disappointment.

Shortly the main event arrived. I was struck by how green the green beans were. They came from a can, but were firm and mildly seasoned. Sherrel said he found both ham and bacon pieces mixed in. The mashed potatoes were whipped smooth with good potato flavor and a mild note of something else I couldn’t place. I covered mine in cream gravy. What it lacked in flavor it made up for in thickness and smoothness.

Sherrel and I agree: chicken is best fried in lard. Our hearts and arteries might not agree, but we aren’t asking them. Based on mouth feel, we think Hollyhock Hill fries in lard. Mmboy! The coating was thin and crispy everywhere, which we both like, but we wished for a little more spice. The chicken inside was a tiny bit dry, the breast more so than the thigh. We decided this was an anomaly, as the chicken was plenty juicy on our last visit. We didn’t detect any seasoning in the meat, but the dark meat carried a great deal more good natural chicken flavor than the white. When my plate was empty but for bones, I wished I could have had another thigh.

Our server made herself invisible but was clearly paying attention because the moment we finished, she cleared away our plates and brought out ice cream and bowls full of chocolate, butterscotch, and creme de menthe sauces. I’m a butterscotch fan and this stuff’s full flavor did not disappoint, making what was otherwise an everyday bowl of ice cream a delightful finish to my meal.

Lunch was $12.95 and included coffee, tea, or milk. I had the coffee and it was regular Joe, a good, honest cup. It went with a good, honest meal.

Indiana fried chicken also comes soul-food style. Check out Mississippi Belle and Kountry Kitchen.


12 responses to “The Indiana Fried Chicken Tour: Hollyhock Hill”

  1. David M Morton Avatar

    Jim, this chicken looks scrumptious. Very hungry now and just keep staring at the photos. I agree with you on the beets. Not really my thing either. But the apple butter can fix up a biscuit, now, I grant you that.

    1. Jim Avatar

      There’s no going wrong with this chicken! If they were open for lunch every day and you didn’t need to call first, I’d probably eat there 2-3 times a month. They’re just a hop, skip, and a jump from where I work.

  2. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    Good gravy, you got all that for thirteen bucks? Man, I went to Five Guys last night and it cost me fifteen. I think you did alright. :D

    1. Jim Avatar

      Well, that was $15 CDN. Everything’s more expensive in Canada!

  3. ryoko861 Avatar

    EVERYTHING tastes better with apple butter on it!
    I like when the waitress is invisible. They always have a habit of coming over when you have a mouth full of food and asking “How is everything?”. I hate that!
    It sounds to me like the meal was alittle bland, but still tasty. I noticed they have “Early Bird” hours which leads me to believe they cater to the senior citizens. That might be why things aren’t “seasoned” so to say.
    But I love the decor (minus the white Christmas lights wrapped in the greenery up by the ceiling-takes away from the 1928 feel, such a critic, aren’t I? :) ).

    1. Jim Avatar

      I’ve just learned to be comfortable answering my server with my mouth full. Every time I’ve eaten here, it’s been full of people with hair grayer than mine. I wonder what happens to restaurants like this one when that generation is gone.

      1. ryoko861 Avatar

        By the time they’re gone, you’ll be taking their place!

        1. Jim Avatar

          I think this kind of place appeals especially to people who fondly remember a time when food was simpler. I think later generations may find this too foreign, given how international and spicy our foods have become in the past 20-30 years.

          1. ryoko861 Avatar

            That’s a very good point! They won’t appreciate good home cooked food like this! I could never picture any of my son’s “girlfriends” preparing a meal like this. Which is ashame. It might be just the area I live in. I would hope my boys learned something while watching me prepare steak, meatloaf, chicken or pork for dinner. With sides. There’s more to eating than Taco Bell.

  4. Ted Kappes Avatar

    I tend to agree about the lard. I remember that my grandmother always cooked her fried chicken in lard and that her gravy would probably instantly clog my arteries today. Still it was very good. Around here when I was growing up it was pretty much the tradition for Sunday dinner to be fried chicken. I think the practice was wide-spread in rural areas of that time and earlier. I would guess that it has been along time since that was a shared experience.

    1. Jim Avatar

      My mom fried in oil. I didn’t discover lard-fried chicken until I was an adult, and then I wondered where it had been all my life! I had heard about fried-chicken Sundays out in the country, but being a city boy, that tradition passed me by.

      1. Jon Avatar

        Wow, this looks like a dream come true. I love fried chicken! When I lived in Boston, our nice neighborhood tried to teach me to fry chicken and cook collards, but I never mastered it.

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