Chicken Unlimited in Eau Claire, WI

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Internet research turns up a bit — but only a bit — of information about the once mighty chain called Chicken Unlimited. It got its start in Hinsdale, Illinois in the 1960s. It once had restaurants in locations as distant as Florida, Barbados, and the Bahamas. At its peak, it was hundreds of restaurants strong; at the present, a location in Eau Claire, WI, may be the last operating franchise. A corporate bankruptcy and mass closing in the ’70s seems to have been the turning point.

The passing of this chicken-fueled giant is both a piece of obscure Midwestern trivia and a bit tragic — if the quality of the operation as a whole can be judged from the remaining, more than 40-year-old Eau Claire location, we’ve lost a tasty treasure.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Eau Claire’s Chicken Unlimited isn’t much to look at — it’s a little strip-mall diner that can’t seat more than a few dozen customers total. But the fried chicken itself ($6 for four pieces) is quite competently executed — a jacket of crispy, lightly herbed, and evenly applied breading covers up moist, savory meat. Milkshakes and malts are not overly sweet, quite tasty, and simple yet honest, and the hot wings are (according to at least one school of thought) about as good as they get. The wings ($5.50 for six) have a tangy, lingering kick that is neither overpowering nor wimpy, and the same moist chicken lurks beneath the light, crispy skin. Like Frank’s Red Hot (as opposed to Tabasco), the wings have a heat with depth.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

If you’re not particularly in the mood for chicken, the menu also offers burgers, fish and hot ham and cheese sandwiches, fried fish, and hot dogs; an ice cream counter offers a number of different daily special flavors.

Travelers taking 90 / 94 to or from Madison should consider adding Chicken Unlimited to their lunch agenda, if only so the chain doesn’t finally surrender completely and pass, unheralded, into the void. Plus, the chicken’s damn good.

Chicken Unlimited
Fried Chicken in Eau Claire, WI

1410 S Hastings Way
Eau Claire, WI 54701
715.834.6688
OWNERS: Dan and Mary Sederstrom
HOURS:
Daily 11:30am-8pm
ENTREE RANGE: $4-8
BAR: None
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Not Unless You Count Grilled Cheese / No

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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14 Comments

  1. Excellent.

  2. I remember the jingle from their radio commercials:

    It’s Chicken Unlimited, but it’s more than that,
    It’s burgers and hot dogs and shrimp and fish.

    They say you can’t please everyone all the time, or can you?
    Chicken Unlimited, Chicken Unlimited….

    My memory of Chicken Unlimited was being in one of their franchise in Florida and the cashier wanting to know if their were enough chicken breasts to fill a customers order so she got on the P.A. and said, “Julie, how many breasts do you have?” The whole restaurant erupted in laughter.

  3. heather 03/07/2010 Reply

    i thought this place got shut down

  4. Never was shut down. Stil open after 40 years.

  5. I have eaten at this place for the 40 years,owners before the current Dan and Mary,tried to change the food, and it cost them the business.Thank God its back to the original Great fries!!!!

  6. Norb Gleisner 03/26/2010 Reply

    I’m the guy who originally started this store. It was interesting to find this website. The pictures show that hardly anything has changed from that date in 1969 (I think) when I and my partner John Lorinser gave birth to it. I live in Florida now, but if I should ever get back to Eau Claire it’ll be interesting to meet the present owners and enjoy a chicken dinner there. It would be interesting to hear from the present owners who could send me an email at ngleisner@aol.com if they should feel so inclined.

    Norb Gleisner

    Norb Gleisner

  7. Thanks to this review, I finally got around to eating at this place. I’m not a big fan of eating food off the bone, but I did nibble almost all the delicious skin off, and ate most of one whole piece. Very good. My two dining companions have been there 3-4 times (again, thanks to this review), and they LOVE the chicken there. LOOOVE it.

    The cole slaw is quite good, with a little kick of horseradish or something.

    If you are on a Twin Cities to/from Chicago or Madison run, it is totally worth it to stop off in Eau Claire to eat here. It’s about 5 minutes from the freeway.

  8. John J 02/18/2011 Reply

    My first job was at a Chicken Unlimited in Olympia Field, IL. It was my first and last job in the food service industry. Convinced me I better go to college and do something with my life. I stop here whenever I am in Eau Claire and the food is the same. I loved the shrimp and burgers when I worked there. Probably contributed to the stores downfall by the amount myself and the other employees ate.

  9. Chicken Unlimited is now closed due to Hastings way construction.

  10. David Berchfield 10/26/2011 Reply

    I remembered chicken unlimited from when i was a kid,I wish there was a way to bring it back to where kfc would have a run for it’s money.i can’t find the taste that chicken unlimited had or like i remember it.Keep on doing business.I want to see a chicken unlimited in somerset ky,

    David Berchfield

  11. Set The CU Record Straight 11/30/2011 Reply

    CU Fan – How incorrect you are. I worked for the owners previous to Dan and Mary and the owners before them and Dan and Mary and the fries have NEVER been changed, not even the oil they fry them in was changed, nothing. You must not be as big of a “CU Fan” as your name implies.

  12. Is there any Chicken Unlimited open at all.

  13. Linda Duncan 07/10/2015 Reply

    Hey, does anyone have a recipe for this chicken. I loved the taste and can’t find anything that even comes close! Thanks.

  14. David Berchfield 08/03/2017 Reply

    I want so much to restore my favorite restaurant. To It’s former glory.i love you chicken unlimited.my childhood is still waiting to be saved.

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