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30 Jun 2016

Return of the (Chicken) King – On Tuesday night, HJ and I went to the new home of Joe McPherson’s fabulous chicken, OK Burger, located along Cheonggyecheon in Jongno (the exact address is 99 Cheonggyecheon-ro, Jongno-gu). I won’t go into detail as to why Joe is no longer at the Omokgyo location we visited last time, mainly because I don’t know the whole story, but suffice it to say that Cheonggyecheon is now the place to be.

Joe seems to be starting off slow and steady, as the barbecue menu currently only features the chicken—although the Jamaica Jerk Chicken Bites were a new addition, as far as I know.

We had come specifically for the chicken, though, so the current selections were fine (although Joe and manager John both mentioned that the menu would be expanding; Joe specifically mentioned that they were bringing back the Brunswick stew, which is good because that was tasty). After some deliberation, we settled on the chicken & fries. For drinks, we were looking forward to having some Platinum brews, but unfortunately the taps were not operational that day—a bit of bad luck for us. As a consolation prize, I had a Sam Adams, while HJ got the ginger ale.

The first thing to note here is that the chicken is no longer fried after being slow cooked. Instead, it is rubbed with seasoning and then put under the broiler to crisp up the skin. I’ll cut to the chase and say that we both agreed that we liked this version better. Fried chicken is awesome—I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like fried chicken—but the tasty skin more than made up for the lack of frying. This is also less fatty, which is always a good thing.

Also notice that this comes with cole slaw. Cole slaw is listed separately on the menu under “Sides & Anju,” but it is actually included in each of the chicken dishes as well. We almost added a separate order, but the waitress informed us that it was indeed included. At the top of the photo, on the left, are some sliced jalapenos, while on the right are two of the three sauces that had accompanied the chicken at the original location. The white sauce and the red sauce both made an appearance, but the cola sauce was missing, much to HJ’s disappointment. After the meal, we learned that the cola sauce was absent because it had, by far, been the least popular of the original sauces, and they always had bottles of it going bad. (The cola sauce was also my least favorite; I liked the white sauce the best.)

The burning question, though, is not what the chicken came with, but how it tasted. Now for the moment of truth: Does Joe still make the best barbecue chicken in Korea?

Of course he does. Just look at that! I tried to pick up the drumstick to eat it by hand, but the meat just fell of the bone. Rather than resorting to a fork, I picked up the meat with my fingers. You can see from the photo that the low and slow cooking process keeps the meat moist, but what you can’t see is the flavor imparted by the smoke. I’m not sure how to describe it, because it doesn’t taste like smoke (like, say, rauchbier does). Instead, it has a very deep, rich flavor that goes beyond what chicken normally tastes like. And if you want to know how tender it was, how’s this: I popped the neck into my mouth whole and then spit out, one by one, the whistle-clean bones. Chicken necks are normally messy, labor-intensive affairs, but I eat them anyway; this one had to be the best chicken neck I’ve ever had. (If I remember correctly, the old chickens didn’t come out with the necks attached—either that or I just missed them.)

One thing should be noted here: The chickens are smaller at OK Burger than they were at McPherson’s BBQ Pub. They are not that much smaller—only 200 grams smaller, according to John, and the price has been lowered accordingly—but a single platter isn’t really enough for two people. HJ and I are used to splitting platters, but we knew that this wasn’t going to be enough for us, so we ordered from the burger side of the menu, getting the eponymous “OK Burger.”

As you can see, it comes with onion, tomato, American cheese, and pickled cabbage (the green thing at the bottom is a thin spear of sweet pickle). It was good, although it probably wasn’t as impressive as the chicken. This isn’t really any fault of the burger itself—the problem is that you can get really good burgers at many places around Seoul these days, but you just can’t get chicken like Joe’s. Still, I don’t want to be harsh: It was a good burger.

This was the view from our window (you can see my reflection on the left), looking down over Cheonggyecheon below. Having seen Cheonggyecheon at night, I have a feeling it might be an even more impressive view after dark, when everything is lit up, but it was still a nice place to sit and have dinner.

This is the interior of the restaurant, with the bar dominating one side near the entrance. Once they get a good beer selection in (John told me they were planning on getting some Hand & Malt, including my favorite, the Extra Special Ale, in addition to the Platinum), hopefully the place will pick up in the evening. I noticed signs around the restaurant for several US brewers, such as Smuttynose (which you can see in the lower right) and Twisted Manzanita, although I forgot to ask if they were planning on getting those as well.

It’s good to see that Joe has found a new home and will be able to continue making his chicken. Glad to have you back, Joe! I’ll definitely be back for more, and if you want to try some awesome smoked chicken and have access to Seoul, I would encourage you to give OK Burger a visit. (If you’re not convinced, Kevin beat me to the punch and had dinner there last week, and his review was also very positive.)

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