Flav’s Fried Chicken in Clinton, IA
There’s nothing that seems terribly out of the ordinary in Clinton, IA. The little city, sprouting like a blister on the very tip of the state’s easterly nose, has plenty of things to be proud of: its Germanic lumber industry roots; the Louis Sullivan-designed department store; and one of the continent’s largest collections of dwarf conifers. However, like many of its neighbors, Clinton has been steadily losing many of its young to bigger and brighter locales since the 1970s.
Knowing all of this, it seems incredibly strange that Flavor Flav, the famed rapper and reality television personality, would open the flagship of his nascent fried chicken chain in Clinton, of all places. The official story goes like this: Flav befriended the Cimino brothers, who own a small chain of Mama Cimino’s Pizza restaurants in Nevada, Iowa, and Illinois. When he began to sell his homemade chicken wings at the Vegas location, Nick Cimino got the idea to open a fried chicken restaurant next door to the Cimino’s in Clinton.
Flav’s Fried Chicken opened its doors two months ago, with locals and tourists alike lined up outside to have fried chicken dished up by the man himself. Flav has also given his word to the Clinton Herald that he would drop by often. “You’re going to be catching me seasoning my chicken, flouring my chicken, frying up my chicken, and not only that, but serving my chicken to my people.”
At first glance, the building, a renovated Long John Silver’s, comes off as a forlorn neighbor to the glossy KFC next door. Once you step inside, however, the audio, visual, and olfactory stimuli hit you like a torrent of buckshot. The walls are covered in spray-painted murals of Flav and Nick “at Night” Cimino (but mostly Flav). There is something about walking into this place and encountering the graffiti while an invisible Flav bellows his pseudonym in the unrelenting Public Enemy background music. And you haven’t even gotten to the fried chicken yet.
We ordered a chicken breast meal with coleslaw ($4) and a half rack of ribs with macaroni and cheese, baked beans, and cornbread ($17). They were tragically out of Flav’s famous wings, which are described on the menu with a tantalizing “WOOWWWW!!!!!” The chicken and sides came out lightning-quick; it would have disturbed us more if we hadn’t been ravenous after our six-hour drive.
According to the counter staff, the chicken is seasoned with a secret recipe concocted by Flav himself. The breading was light, but crispy, and the meat was really quite moist. Was it something about how it was cooked, or did it owe more to factory farming practices? Regardless, it was decent for what it was. The cole slaw wasn’t too vinegary — in fact, it seemed just right.
We absolutely demolished the ribs, which came slathered in BBQ sauce. There wasn’t much of a bite to them, but they were satisfying in their own way. In an oddly depressing turn, the macaroni and cheese stimulated memories of my childhood, when we were poor and lived off of Kid Cuisines. And the baked beans were just terrible, tasting somehow worse than the standard grocery store cans. We also received three dry cornbread muffins with our meal. Thankfully, Flav’s provides packets of honey to go along with them.
There weren’t many other customers when we arrived, but we heard that the dinner rush could get intense. There was a small family with teenagers who had clearly dragged their parents there, a young couple visiting from Ames, and an elderly couple who spent most of their visit quietly perusing the menu. When we spoke to the couple from Ames, they laughed and said they would probably never come back. They did, however, take several photos in front of a mural.
Flav’s Fried Chicken is hard to figure out: Is it an honest side project, or a cynical venture into “Flavsploitation” by the Cimino brothers? It seems so earnest, and the decor makes it look like they really do believe in the concept. On the other hand, the quality of the food, while adequate, hasn’t a shred of soul to it.
Though the restaurant seems like an awkward fit for the city, the residents have accepted it with open arms. Since Flav’s opened, Clinton has been mentioned in national publications like VIBE, Esquire, and TIME. Flav’s is exciting, a rogue element in a place that probably hasn’t seen too much action since the turn of the last century. Would it be unfair to root against more franchises? (Sorry, Flav.) For now, its radiant uniqueness makes the city a destination. It goes beyond “edgy” and “cool”: It’s deep in total non sequitur territory, and it might be the push Clinton needs to bring more life into the city.
BEST BET: The fried chicken, of course! Opt for the cornbread over the rolls.
Flav’s Fried Chicken
Fast Food in Clinton, IA
916 N 2nd St
Clinton, IA 52732
OWNER / CHEF: Nick Cimino and Flavor Flav
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: No
ENTREE RANGE: $4-38
Editor’s Note: As of April 24th, 2011, Flav’s Fried Chicken closed its doors after a brief four-month tenure.