In 1992, when Bruce and Eric Bromberg were preparing to open their original Blue Ribbon restaurant in New York’s SoHo, they spent a lot of time brainstorming the menu. “We went to a little restaurant, and we asked each other, ‘What’s your favorite meal? What’s your favorite thing to eat? What’s your favorite birthday dinner?'” Bruce recalls of the process. “And we both listed fried chicken a number of times.”
It was an odd choice for a pair of Jewish guys from New Jersey who had no family history with traditional Southern cuisine. “But my dad would bring it home from a little place in Morristown, New Jersey,” Bruce says. It was also Dad who introduced them to putting honey on the chicken. And it was a happy accident that while they were trying to formulate their own fried chicken recipe, they were also making matzo ball soup.
“We’d made a bunch of versions of fried chicken, and none of them were terribly good. And Eric kind of looked at me and said, ‘What about matzo meal?’ And I said, ‘Let’s give it a try!'”
Twenty-three years, later, the dish and its incredible matzo meal crust have become a staple of the Blue Ribbon dining empire, albeit with a little tweaking between restaurant openings. Las Vegas got its first taste of the brothers’ signature chicken with a Japanese spin, seasoned with togarashi spice and accompanied by a wasabi-infused honey at Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill in the Cosmopolitan. We were later treated to the original version at Brooklyn Bowl at the Linq. And patrons of Downtown Summerlin can now get boneless white-meat tenders, boneless thighs and bone-in wings at the new Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken, which opened recently at the outdoor mall.
Bruce tells me the decision to rely primarily on boneless dishes was simply a matter of expediency: They’re quicker to make in the new restaurant’s fast-food atmosphere. That certainly makes sense. But the new version comes off to me as a bit too much of a good thing. I love that matzo breading. But I personally think it overpowers the chicken in both the tenders and the wings. Of course, that’s simply a matter of taste. I know plenty of people who feel that if the breading is good, the more the better. And those people will undoubtedly have a field day here. But even if you fall into that category, I’d advise against any of the many available sandwiches, which compound the heavy breading on the chicken by then putting them on a roll.
One thing that’s not open for debate, however, is that all of the tenders I’ve tried here have been extremely dry. The size and the natural fat content of the much larger thigh pieces make them much more moist and, as a result, more satisfying.
While the main courses are rather limited, Blue Ribbon has a nice selection of sides and beverages. The former includes collard greens with bacon, two types of coleslaw, mashed potatoes with gravy and some very tasty adobo corn with chipotle butter and queso fresco. To wash everything down, you have your choice of Boylan’s fountain sodas (made with cane sugar), three beers, organic wine by the glass or six flavors of milkshakes. And in deference to Dad, the numerous dipping sauces for the chicken include not one, but three styles of honey.
For those who fell in love with the Brombergs’ fried chicken at one of their other restaurants, the fast-food version offered at Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken might not live up to your expectations. But it is, after all, fast food. And if you’re going to eat fast food, you won’t find much out there with a pedigree like this. Nearly a quarter of a century after its introduction, the Brombergs keep tinkering and adapting, and that matzo recipe keeps winning over new audiences. I can only hope they keep playing with it for another 23 years.
Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken
In Downtown Summerlin, 702-329-9300, Open for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Sun-Thu, 11 a.m. -11 p.m. Fri-Sat. Dinner for two, $20-$35.