The Fat Chicken restaurant in Rockwall rules and there’s a good reason why
The list of victims of Trinity Groves, the West Dallas restaurant incubator founded by Phil Romano in 2013, exceeds success stories, but one tasty exception is Fatty Chickenthe welcoming mom-and-pop serving excellent Texas comfort food, with fried chicken as the centerpiece.
The restaurant had a more complicated journey than most, to get where it is today: a friendly neighborhood spot in Rockwall, in a small strip mall at 3045 N. Goliad St., where it attracts locals for its fried chicken and homemade desserts. .
Credit the determination of husband and wife owners Linda Mazzei and DJ Quintanilla, not to mention the holy trinity of great food, service and ambiance.
The pair were among the first generation of incubated concepts to launch in Trinity Groves, first with a global cuisine venue called Resto Gastro Bistro, then relaunching as Fat Chicken in 2017, which they moved to Rockwall in 2018.
In an unprecedented move, Fat Chicken briefly closed in July when Mazzei discovered she had pneumonia, requiring an eight-day stay at Parkland Hospital. Her family had to step in to give Mazzei time to recover.
“She’s just go-go-go-go and she doesn’t know when to stop,” DJ says.
“My mom said, ‘If you die, you can never open again,'” Mazzei laughs. “They convinced me that it was better to take care of yourself, even if it meant opening later than I wanted.”
Entering this cozy restaurant feels like stepping into your grandmother’s dining room. Mazzei, whose experience includes working with the Lombardi restaurant group as well as chefs such as Stephan Pyles, lovingly created this space with his childhood memories in mind.
She drew on memories of her great-grandmother’s house, from the yellow paint on the walls to the gingham curtains and country-style furniture. Much of the decoration came from his sister’s garage and from customers and friends who had given him several chicken ornaments.
Regulars make up the bulk of their clientele. Mazzei is there every day from opening to closing; if you visit her, you see her greeting customers by name.
The decor matches the food, which feels like the chef’s version of homemade. There are funky dishes like fried pickles but also gourmet offerings like an arugula salad with fennel and grated manchego cheese.
Mazzei is also a masterful baker, producing better-than-homemade cakes, cookies, and other desserts that have their own clientele.
Menu Highlights to understand:
- stuffed eggs
- jalapeno cheese fritters
- Asian Chicken Salad
- fried chicken steak with mashed potatoes and homemade cream sauce
- a burger topped with bacon and a fried egg
They cover the chicken in all sorts of ways: chicken tacos, chicken pot pie, Korean fried chicken, and chicken and donuts, a decadent take on the usual chicken and waffles.
Their signature fried chicken comes in combos with homemade cookies and coleslaw, or in a variety of sandwiches with toppings such as pickles or blue cheese dressing.
They make their own buttermilk brine and the breaded coating comes from a DJ recipe that uses fresh garlic and thyme, the perfect herb for chicken.
They are very careful with the marinating time. “If you leave it in the marinade for too long, the chicken loses its body,” says Mazzei.
In a world of chains, it’s a treasure to find something so personal.
The result: whether it was a chicken tenderloin or a greasy chicken wing, the chicken was moist, with a pleasant buttermilk flavor, encased in a well-spiced but not spicy, crispy crust. Probably crisp enough to survive the return trip to Dallas – although I can’t say for sure as mine didn’t go that far.