Champy’s Famous Fried Chicken
27080 U.S. 98 • Daphne, AL 36526 • 251-621-1666
Well, I managed to make it through the holidays without making the Christmas tamales I pledged to present at our Christmas Eve dinner. It has heavily weighed on my soul. I’m not sure why, but I had it in my head I’d have tamales in 2020, but couldn’t pull it off.
Ever since Christmas Day, I’ve been thinking about peeling a corn husk and munching down, delta-style. Busy as a bee, I’d no chance to drop my schedule and set up my tamale system. There is only one place around here to scratch that itch, and it is Champy’s.
When I tell you I had a hankering for it, I meant it. This was no exaggeration, as I paid Champy’s a visit twice in one week. It’s not exactly on the way home, by the way. My first visit was with Graham, age 10, who, mid-tamale, said, “Dad, my life is perfect right now.” Bold words from a young man with a mouth full of food. It didn’t take much convincing to get him to revisit six days later.
Our return date was a little more in depth. We had most of the family, minus teenager Lucas, who was having lunch at a friend’s house. The cool afternoon had us looking for a table indoors, though I love their patio. And though this is a chain of restaurants, now eight deep in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia, you don’t get that chain feel. The decor is a little more legit juke joint, and the straightforward menu outdoes the shellacked table of contents and booklets found at most cookie-cutter snoozers.
Our table of four started with the smoked sausage, cheese and pickle plate ($9.50). It’s exactly as it says with cubes of cheddar and Pepper Jack and chunks of pickles and pepper rings smothering the sausage. It looked like it was shot with a blunderbuss, loaded with toothpicks and sprinkled with seasoning. This is a football-watching, beer-swilling app if ever there were one, but easily enjoyable without the accompaniment of either suds or skins.
When you order tamales ($20.75 per dozen), there is a chance they may come out faster than your drinks. This is the one thing not cooked to order. If you’re used to Mexican tamales, these are a little different. In Spanish, we say tamal (singular) and tamale (plural). In Mississippi, it’s tamale and tamales. These beauties are a touch spicy for Graham, but he handled the heat by smothering them with coleslaw (provided) and eating them on a cracker. High cotton, I tell you.
Graham, Katie, Henry and I didn’t fight over the last of the tamales because the rest of our food was coming out so quickly. Katie, always having to share her meal with Baby Henry, ordered the chicken tender plate ($9.25). Three sizable tenders, which she reports are great, were enough to have leftovers. It must’ve been the fries and baked beans that filled them up.
But those beans are so good, you can’t help it. There are a few kidney beans mixed in with the baked beans, a good contrast, as well as a presence of brown sugar. It’s like they mixed two big cans of Showboat and one cup of Camellia reds. I’ll try to remember to adopt that recipe.
I was trying to at least look as if I were behaving, so I ordered the Cajun grilled chicken salad ($10.50). It’s a rather large-but-segregated salad with deliciously grilled white meat chicken that must have been marinated. Henry was fond of the cleverly arranged sliced grape tomatoes. With all the calories I was saving by eating a salad, I figured I deserved a beer and a single thigh ($3.15). They say the chicken is famous. It ought to be. Crispy and juicy throughout, there aren’t many better-fried thighs in our area.
Graham is here on his sophomore visit and he already has his “usual.” The Delta Delight ($10.99) is a plate full of Mississippi Delta farm-raised catfish strips. This is a chicken joint, modeled after a juke joint, known for its tamales, and the best thing there may be the catfish. Our area is low on catfish and tallboys, but Champy’s is taking up the slack.
It was great seeing my young man, about to turn 11 this month, command a menu and know exactly what he wants. I prefer whole catfish myself, but these filets are so good you won’t miss the flavor of the bones. Those same baked beans were on Graham’s plate, but he subbed his coleslaw with mashed potatoes with gravy. I admit defeat. He out-ordered all of us. We were owned by a 10-year-old.
We didn’t cook dinner that night, managing to make a meal from leftovers.
It turns out this isn’t a story of tamales. It’s just the tamales that got me there. This is more of a story of a style of cooking not prevalent in these parts. Daphne has some really good places to eat, so I’ve gone years without darkening the doors of Champy’s. No matter how famous the chicken actually is, I have to spread the love when I make a trip across the bay on an off day. If I lived there, I’d more than likely be a regular.
I don’t get a corporate vibe from this place. The food comes to you so quickly and the chicken is fresh out of the grease. It’s incredibly hot and flavorful. This stuff doesn’t sit under a heat lamp for a half hour. The sides are stellar, which is just as important as those tamales. We pretty much touched on everything they offer, save dessert, and I have zero complaints.
As good as it is, I have to wonder why I’d ever mess up my kitchen shoving lard, meat and cornmeal into husks when I could be there in 20 minutes. If I ever need a riding buddy, I’m sure Graham will be the first to volunteer.
Build one in Mobile, please.
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