Photo by Chris Casella

Winner, Winner

Any chickens out there worth their feathered salt best steer clear of Columbus as we are turning into the fried chicken capital of the Midwest. Recall Mya’s Fried Chicken, then the Hot Chicken takeover frenzy, a half-dozen brick-and-mortars that thrill with crispiness, and now Double Comfort has wiggled itself into the former Knead space on North High Street, across from the convention center.

Within 270, chicken fiends can have their choice of taste-bud searing or honeyed-up, or as a weekly bar special. Just when we thought there couldn’t be another flavor profile added to the roster, here comes Double Comfort with its Memphis fried chicken.

“Really, it’s all about the spices and the frying technique,” said executive chef Dan Varga. “I can’t give you any more details!” The spice blend, created in super secrecy at North Market Spices, has a touch more zing than the fried chicken we’re used to – somewhere between tickling and searing.

“Comfort food is my thing. It’s what I know.”

Not only will the mystery spices set this bird at the head of the flock, so will its just-plucked freshness. “We’re not just any fried chicken joint – we get everything fresh, from the chicken raised at a local farm, to the spices from the North Market. We don’t even have a walk-in cooler, so we have to get orders in every other day.”

Known for the monthly international menus that he created while at the helm of the Explorers Club kitchen, Chef Varga is looking forward to returning to the U.S., so to speak, and back to the cradle of comfort food.
“Comfort food is my thing – it’s what I know. It started with the Gloria Café back in 1994. It was a Cajun restaurant, and the owner, Harold Smith, was from Lafayette, Louisiana. That place was where I fell in love with comfort food.”

While the fried chicken – which can be ordered whole or piece by favorite piece – definitely struts down the aisle first, the attendant offerings are equally as tasty. Po’ boys, chicken-fried steak, whole roasted chicken, chow-chow, and a entire run-down of Southern-flecked apps and sides hustle for attention.

There will also be an off-the-chain brunch elevating the chicken and waffles game to the next level. Homemade Belgian waffles serve as a raft for the fried chicken, which is then doused in a homemade syrup that blends the flavors of morning: coffee, bacon, and bourbon (I guess it depends on your mornings).

Although that dish sounds like it can’t be topped, it’s not Varga’s favorite: “The mac-n-cheese waffle, man! It’s a reincarnation of my morning mac, which has followed me, and still will, everywhere I go. It’s kind of like a cult!”

To make the switch from international to Southern, Varga picked the brains of local chefs and brought in an amazing crew.

“I hired an old-school chef from back in the day, Alonzo Brown, from Augusta, Georgia. It’s been great to have him on-board with me – it’s good to have an OG in my kitchen! And of course, I read cookbooks all the time…in fact, they’re in the kitchen with me now.”

Besides the warm belly hug of comfort food, the new restaurant also extends that culinary comfort to the entire Columbus community. Conceived and opened by local philanthropist couple Mary and Jim Lyski, the new joint is the offering more than just culinary comfort.

A nonprofit venture, a part of each chicken meal will be awarded to local charities. “Not only is Double Comfort good, simple, comfort food, but the whole concept behind the business is paying it forward, and giving back to the community,” explained Varga. “I love the idea of ‘buy a meal, give a meal.’ I am proud to be a part of this restaurant.”