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.
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.
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.
Fried Chicken in Eau Claire, WI
1410 S Hastings Way
Eau Claire, WI 54701
OWNERS: Dan and Mary Sederstrom
ENTREE RANGE: $4-8
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Not Unless You Count Grilled Cheese / No