Chicken dinner is a cluck above the rest

There is a chain of chicken restaurants (whose name begins with a Z) that has led the market in succulent, finger-smacking roasted chicken for years. It's definitely delicious, but the next time I'm hankering for garlicky chicken, hummus and pita, I'll be going to the brand new Frechicko.

Admittedly, the main reason is that it's closer to my home in La Crescenta. But secondly, this chicken is less greasy and more flavorful. They use a multistep, multiday process to create this wonderful flavor. They are sworn to secrecy on the process, but I deduced the following.

First, they wash and dry the bird and cut off as much fat as possible. Then, based on similarities to juicy Thanksgiving turkeys I've made, they must brine it for a while. Then it goes into a marinade of herbs, spices, garlic and some tangy fruit. It is then grilled over an open-flame that de-fats it even more yet leaves a crispy skin and juicy meat.

The cost is slightly higher than at other chicken places, but at $14.99 for a whole chicken, two sides, soup or salad, two large pitas and their delicious signature sauce, it's still a bargain. The sauce has a yogurt base — again, healthier than an oil-based sauce — lots of garlic and what appear to be diced cucumbers. You can ask for their standard garlic sauce as well, but it's more like a paste and not that special.

The rest of the items on the menu at Frechicko are respectable but not outstanding. Beef and chicken kabobs come with rice, pepper, tomato and soup or salad ($9.99 to $11.99). Sandwich choices include koobideh, shawarma, gyro and falafel, and come on a French roll or pita bread ($5.95). They all feature that tangy signature sauce. A unique item is the Shredded Chicken Plate ($9.99), which combines white and yellow basmati rice, shredded marinated chicken, barberries, raisins and slivered sweet and sour orange peel. The tart flavors are invigorating. I like the idea that for $1.50, you can add any of those dried fruit toppings, as well as cranberry or sour cherry, to your rice.

The dining room at Frechicko leaves a bit to be desired. I would describe the ambience as utilitarian rather than warm or homey. Though clean and airy with big windows, the faux wood tables and big screen TV clamoring for attention gives the sizable restaurant the feel of a take-out place. The service, however, is friendly and attentive. It's run by a family who, until recently, owned Julius Italian Cafe in Pasadena for 25 years. They "retired" then realized that running restaurants was in their blood, thus Frechicko. The name, they tell me, is a reworking of the words "fresh chicken." An appropriate name for their strongest offering.

So the next time you're looking to feed your family of four, try the whole chicken meal with maybe a couple extra sides like tabouleh ($3.45) and corn salad ($2.45) thrown in, and give your loved ones something more nutritious and interesting than yet another pizza.

Lisa Dupuy, a busy mother and writer, is always on the lookout for convenient and healthful meals for her family. She can be reached at ldupuy@aol.com.

Infobox

What: Frechicko Grill

When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday

Where: 3839 Foothill Blvd., La Crescenta

Prices: Quarter, half and whole chicken meals $6.59 to $14.99; starters and sides $2.45 to $6.55; sandwiches $5.95; specials and kabob plates $7.99 to $11.99.

Contact: (818) 249-4163

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