HAINES CITY – As the nation’s current obsession with obesity and changing our eating patterns continues unabated, I wonder sometimes if we’re missing another aspect of this picture: namely, whether this well-intentioned public health and awareness campaign may be producing a casualty that deserves to stick around a lot longer: southern fried foods.
If you’re someone who worries that this nation isn’t taking seriously the problem of poor dietary habits and feel a need to steer people toward only the healthiest and most nutritious foods available, you might want to stop reading right about now. I’m not going to be saying anything that you’ll find encouraging or supportive.
Because while I agree that a trip to the salad bar beats out a juicy hamburger with fries and a tall coke, the demonization of fast foods and sodas sometimes makes me a little bit nervous, because what I also see out there is one of the great traditions of the South: fried foods.
You might think of fried foods as a New Orleans specialty, but if you head into older parts of Central Florida that haven’t been paved over by heavy development in the past decade or so, you can find them: small restaurants that revel in fried foods, that cooking method where food is submerged in hot fat oil in either a deep fryer or chip pan. Although this form of cooking horrifies nutritional experts, the truth is that this has been an ages-old Southern tradition for a very good reason, and in my view, Homestyle Chicken N Fish exemplifies this so well.
If you’re driving down E. Hinson Avenue through downtown Haines City, you’re likely to miss it. Homestyle Chicken doesn’t really look like a restaurant from the outside, and inside, there’s a very small counter with a handful of seats if you want to eat there, but most people tend to get a take-out order here and head back home or to the office.
But make no mistake about it: Homestyle Chicken has been operating in this city for more than four decades because their cooks know exactly what to do with a very wide variety of foods, all deep fried to – yes, perfection.
At Homestyle, you walk up to the counter, and then marvel at the huge menu plastered above it, with a wide selection of edible goodies to pick from. There is, of course, chicken — by the piece, or wings only, not to mention chicken nuggets.
If you prefer seafood, you get a choice between fried catfish, white fish, or shrimp. And this is also one of the few places around to get one of the most underrated delicacies, fried chicken livers or gizzards.
Homestyle also has some fried vegetables, including okra and collard greens – and, you might ask yourself, why eat something that’s supposed to be good for you when frying it defeats the entire purpose of eating healthy?
Check out Homestyle Chicken and you’ll get the answer. It’s fine to eat right during the week, and to exercise, and to count the calories when you’re buying your food at the supermarket. But don’t allow that discipline to keep you from occasionally visiting a place like Homestyle, where you’ll find that Southern fried foods have such a great reputation for a solid reason. This is delicious stuff, regardless of the fat content.
Homestyle also has fresh baked pound cake, and pricing that’s hard to beat: a large order of corn nuggets for $3, and the same price for a chicken sandwich, while you’ll also pay $3.50 for a white fish sandwich and $4 for a catfish sandwich. Homestyle is no budget-buster.
They also have another very popular Southern tradition: as the menu notes, Homestyle is the place to go to get “the best sweet and unsweet tea in town.”
This historic restaurant is at 404 E. Hinson Ave. in downtown Haines City, and is open Mondays through Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. until 10 p.m., and closed on Sundays. Located across the street from Haines City City Hall, and close to the exit for U.S. 27, Homestyle is well worth seeking out for anyone who knows just how great Southern fried food can be.
Yes, it’s not right as a steady diet. But let’s hope our efforts to slim down don’t result in great places like this folding up shop. Orlando has some great vegan restaurants for the truly health-conscious; but fried foods have a place, too, and this one is among the best.
To learn more, call 863-422-0734.
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