How does a New Havener get a taste of the deep South in the middle of winter? Drive a few minutes over the Hamden line and queue up at Griff’s Chicken Shack.
Owner and chef Scott Griffin has the Southern bona fides through and through. Born to native Alabamians and raised in Ft. Walton Beach, FL, Griffin attended the University of Tennessee at Martin. He “grew up eatin’ a lot of fried chicken, collard greens, catfish,” all washed down with sweetened ice tea, called simply “sweet tea.” Griffin would probably still be down there if it weren’t for – what else? love. Meeting his New Jersey-born wife Alaine at his first job in Florida, they moved north for better employment, he as an editor at the Waterbury Republican-American, she eventually as a reporter at the Hartford Courant. Shortly after their arrival in 1994, it became clear he had taken all that Southern comfort food for granted.
Soon after the Griffins came to Connecticut they were taken out to dinner at a restaurant in Fairfield County. When asked what Griffin would like to drink he replied with his standard answer, “Tea,” by which he meant Southern sweet tea. “Out came a tray with a prissy little teapot, a bunch of tea bags, and a little teacup,” says Griffin. “That was the eureka moment,” when he knew he was a catfish out of water. “That started me learning how to cook, just because I wanted to cook things for myself. I started to make things I wanted to eat, things I could have walked down the street to eat.”
Wanting to be his own boss, Griffin taught himself the ins and outs of what he thinks of as simply “food” and what the rest of us would call “Southern food.” He began to toy with the idea of having a restaurant that would serve the food he loved to eat. In August 2009 he did just that, launching Griff’s Chicken Shack in a small space on Whitney Avenue in Hamden, a short drive from Quinnipiac University. His restaurant has become a go-to spot for college students, but families and business people are equally desirous of Griffin’s cooking, such as his perfectly cooked chicken fingers.
Everything is made from scratch, from the marinades to the breading to the 13 dipping sauces. Griffin’s wife even whips up a Key lime pie. The chicken dishes are made from the breast and fried without a trace of excess oil. ”The lack of grease is just a matter of doing things the right way, not the fast, cheap way, and using fresh, quality ingredients. If you use [lousy] oil and frozen food, the oil is constantly going up and down in temperature and the food will soak up more oil.”
If you’re not feeling like inhaling Griffin’s chicken fingers – hard to imagine – there are wrap sandwiches using the variety of dipping sauces, dinner salads, and thankfully those Southern stalwarts of pulled pork, catfish, gumbo and jambalaya.
While the snow flies outside, take one bite of the Andouille sausage in a steaming bowl of gumbo and you’ll be transported, just briefly, to the heat, the sun, the feel of the Florida panhandle.
Restaurant Website: http://griffschickenshack.com/
• The Detes: 3000 Whitney Ave., Hamden. 203-909-6636. Open seven days. Tuesday through Saturday 11 p.m. – 8 p.m. Sunday noon – 8 p.m., Monday 11 a.m. – 3 p.m..
• Price Range: Chicken fingers start at $1.75, chicken-finger baskets $5.80 -10.30. Sandwiches and wraps $4.75-$10 depending on which side dishes are added. Dinner salads are $5. Side dishes alone are $1 – 6.75.
• Style of Food: Southern “fusion” of New Orleans, Cajun, Florida panhandle, seafood.
• Favorite dishes: Chicken fingers, pulled pork sandwich, Elvis wrap, the Bobcat BBQ dipping sauce.
• Drinks: Foxon Park sodas
• Take out: definitely
• Outdoor seating: no