Why am I so obsessed with Barberton Fried Chicken, folks? I can’t explain it, beyond a general love of regional culinary quirks. But since reading about the northeast Ohio dish in Gastro Obscura, I’ve sought to try every restaurant that offers it, starting with the original, Belgrade Gardens.
And how we’re back for a second entry: Hopocan Gardens.
A quick primer for those unfamiliar with the style: Barberton, Ohio is called the “Fried Chicken Capital of the World” because of pohovana piletinaa type of fried chicken served by Serbian immigrants in the 1930s. Now known as “Barberton fried chicken”, these are freshly slaughtered whole chickens brined, left overnight in an egg bath and breaded, then fried in lard.
Hopocan was Barberton’s second fried chicken restaurant to open, first serving in 1942. It is at the western terminus of Hopocan Avenue, technically in neighboring Norton.
Entering the restaurant is a taste of local history. You’ll certainly feel like an outsider (but not an intruder) in a place steeped in decades of tradition. It’s all here: from the obviously long-serving waiters to the wood-paneled walls, carpeted floors, and pictures hanging on the wall.
The extensive menu features their signature chicken but turns into other favorites, like sandwiches, hot wings, fish, chicken paprikash (which gets double billing with chicken on the front panel).
Before ordering, you will receive free bread brought to the table.
The must-order is the signature fried chicken, which you can order as white meat, dark meat, thighs, thighs, breast, half chicken, and more.
Chicken dinners can be served with all sorts of sides: fries, mashed potatoes with chicken sauce, pickled coleslaw, green beans, applesauce. One of the house favorites is the hot sauce, a tomato and rice stew that is also served at Belgrade Gardens.
We went for dinner for the last time, and although the restaurant was quiet when we arrived, the dining room quickly filled up, with a steady stream of takeout orders as well.
As we were leaving, another patron spotted me taking pictures of the signage and insisted on having my picture taken near the chicken. We chatted for a bit and I learned that she and her husband grew up in the area. She said he liked Hopocan more, but his family grew up in gardens in Belgrade, so that was his preference.
If you ever happen to be in the Barberton area, I highly recommend taking a detour for lunch or dinner at one of these places. It’s a wonderful piece of local flavor, and it’s hard to argue with a plate of fried chicken.
4396 W. Hopocan Avenue, ext.
Norton, Ohio 44203
FB: DeVore’s Hopocan Gardens