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February 14, 2006

Chicken House is a sacred secret of the Sunny Side

 More often than not, when one enters a subject into the search engine Google, many options pop up on your computer screen. I did just that — more out of curiosity than for information — with the Chicken House restaurant located just west of Sellersburg, Ind., on Grant Line Roada few miles north of the Indiana University Southeast campus. What I got as a result was surprising, given my past experiences with Google, regardless of the subject. There were only four responses to Chicken House, and nothing at all when it came to reviews of the establishment so popular with Southern Indiana diners and others who know of the place. I’m aware that Sellersburg isn’t exactly the culinary center of the universe, but given the dietary habits of Southern Indianans (is there really such a person?), and those of people on the south side of the Ohio as well, I was a bit taken aback that no word had been written on the place. Let me come clean here, if I might. I’m a Southern Indiana native (actually Southwestern Indiana — Princeton, to be exact). I grew up loving fried chicken, and at 63 I’ve never come close to losing my taste for it. I’ve had some pretty good fried chicken along the way, as you might guess, and I’ll go out of my way to find new horizons in that area. My friend Billy Reed, who now writes for this publication, often tells people I never forget a meal. He gets a bit rude about it from time to time, but I always forgive him knowing that he was not blessed with the same reverence for the dinner table as was I. Still, he is very much on target. My most serious dining experiences, good or bad, all are etched in my mind forever. And so it is that we come to the Chicken House. Located in a pastoral setting — a horse-training center is next door — the Chicken House itself is all country once one goes through the door. The first thing that hits you is the concrete flooring. All the better to hose down the mess, I suppose. But I never saw a floor drain, so I guess the concrete serves some other purpose. There are two distinct areas in the place, one a fairly large bar area with tables and the other strictly a dining area. Both are serviced by large-screen TVs, and I can only imagine what the atmosphere must be like in there when, say, Indiana or Kentucky are playing on the hardwood. I first learned of the Chicken House from a friend in Lexington, where I now reside. He made it sound like a can’t-miss opportunity to discover yet another outlet for my voracious appetite for the house specialty. I was not disappointed. I will not go so far as to say the Chicken House puts out the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten. I can tell you that is indeed a high fence to climb. But the chicken is very good, and the serving is very generous. I have a friend who helps me during Kentucky Derby week, and it is then that the Chicken House comes up on our week’s agenda. Call it a sacrilege, but we skip out of the Downs early on Kentucky Oaks day to go to the place and watch the Oaks on the big screen while eating chicken. You get a great meal, and you get out of one hell of a traffic jam. And one jam is enough, with the Derby the next day. With a half-chicken dinner (I always prefer white meat), you get a house salad or one of two kinds of slaw, chicken, of course, choice of potato (fries, baked, etc.), green beans, dumplings and a huge yeast roll. There is so much food that our Saturday dinner more often than not consists of what is left over from Friday. The value is great — even if you have a couple of cold beers with your meal, two people can get out of the place at a reasonable price, including a nice tip to the always-friendly servers. Again, it’s not the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. But it’s surely good enough to keep me coming back until, say, another Ruffian comes along to run in the Oaks. NOTE: The menu at the Chicken House is not all chicken by any means. Also, much of their business is carry-out, something the locals take advantage of often. Full chicken dinners are not available daily, so call (812) 246-9485 before you go. The restaurant is located at 7180 Hwy. 111 in Sellersburg. People using wheelchairs (including this writer) will confront some issues. The entryway is level but a bit clumsy. More problematic was the men’s room door; you may need to be a weightlifter to handle it going in and coming out. The seating is quite comfortable and there is plenty of room between tables. Hours are Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday 4-9:30 p.m. Credit cards are accepted. The Chicken House  7180 Hwy. 111  Sellersburg, Ind.  (812) 246-9485  Rating: 3