Barberton fried chicken is much more than a meal — it’s a singular sensation that’s been shared by residents and visitors to the city for the past 85 years. The deep-fried Serbian-style dish, always served with french fries, vinegar-based coleslaw and a distinctive hot sauce, has grown to achieve legendary status.
“Barberton is one of the few places in the world that has a truly defining food,” says Akron native Ron Koltnow, whose book Barberton Fried Chicken: An Ohio Original (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99) is a love letter to the dish he grew up with. “The [cooking] technique is surprisingly simple but tremendously effective.”
Koltnow, who lives in Boston but manages to make it back home for his beloved dish several times each year, talks about the city’s signature food.
What makes Barberton fried chicken so special?
A: Fresh, healthy chickens are used, not the types you find in a chain restaurant. Chicken parts are breaded in flour, eggs and breadcrumbs, aged in the refrigerator overnight and then deep-fried in pure lard, which gives it a bronze, crispy crust. When you bite into it, you can hear a snap, and it yields very moist meat. With the fries, slaw and hot sauce, all the flavors go very much together.
Q: The chicken is served at four Barberton restaurants: Belgrade Gardens, Hopocan Gardens, White House Chicken and Village Inn Chicken. How are these locations tied together?
A: You can trace a bloodline through all these restaurants. They are all related through either family or work experience. And there is a very strong theme of women owners, beginning with Smilka Topalsky, who opened Belgrade Gardens in 1933.
Q: When did this fried chicken reach the peak of its popularity?
A: During the 1960s, 30,000 meals were served in the city per week — that’s 7 tons of chicken. On Mother’s Day in 1969, there were 25,000 fried chicken dinners served. When people would go out to eat, they would look for the place with the shortest line. It was the golden age of chicken.