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Family Style: The Story of White Fence Farm's Famous Fried Chicken

Dec 03, 2018 Eat & Drink

Two women holding bags of White Fence Farm fried chicken

White Fence Farm has never been interested in following trends.

The meals served at this Romeoville eatery along Illinois' Route 66 haven't changed much since the 1950s, when the new owner, Bob Hastert, Sr., added fried chicken to the menu of a restaurant otherwise only notable for its vintage cars parked out front.

Sometimes there's no need to follow trends, though. Especially not when you find a meal that's already this fantastic. In the decades since the Hastert family took over, White Fence Farm has become famous for its dinners featuring crispy, perfectly cooked fried chicken served in an atmosphere that brings families together.

Inspiration on the Mother Road

Bob Hastert had made chicken before. He and his wife, Doris, had founded the Harmony House restaurant in Aurora, Illinois, and they'd already been serving fried chicken there for some time. During a country drive down the iconic Route 66, Bob and Doris encountered the 450-acre White Fence Farm, which its owner, billionaire Sylvester Peabody, mostly used to house coal miners. The property also had an onsite restaurant, complete with a shuffleboard court — a perfect activity, Bob thought, for people to enjoy while they waited for a table.

Bob purchased the restaurant property from the Peabody family and brought the Harmony House chicken recipe to White Fence Farm. Today, more than half a century later, the name of the farm hasn't changed — and neither has the Hastert family recipe.

The Family Secret

The key to the signature flavor is the cooking method. After breading, the chicken goes into an industrial pressure cooker, which bakes it thoroughly before it even enters the oil. As soon as an order comes in, the chicken is flash-fried for 2 to 3 minutes, resulting in a crispy, golden-brown skin.

Using the right ingredients is just as important. Fresh and never frozen, whole chickens arrive at the farm daily; employees separate them by hand, just like they have for decades. Machines coat the chicken in a special blend of flour, milled exclusively for White Fence Farm in Chicago, where its secret recipe is safely guarded. What the recipe doesn't have, according to its owners, is any of the fattening ingredients found in many batters — no egg, no milk and very little salt. Even the oil, a low-cholesterol variety made from soybeans, is as "healthy as you could expect from a fried-chicken recipe. But that's just all the more reason to dig in at the table.

And dig in you will: the chicken arrives to the table family style — four pieces per person — with an awesome array of sides, including pickled beet relish, kidney bean salad, coleslaw and a basket of homemade corn fritters dusted in powdered sugar. The menu also includes broiled Icelandic fish, fried shrimp and T-bone steaks, and that's before you get to the dessert of brandy ice.

Visiting the Farm

While adults might be the only ones to enjoy an alcohol-infused treat, the entire family can find plenty to enjoy during a visit to White Fence Farm. Outside the several dining rooms, which can seat more than 1,000 customers at once, the building houses a collection of antique cars and other vintage displays. All year long, the farm is home to an assortment of friendly farm animals — including alpacas, miniature goats and pet chickens — that you can pet through the fence of the pasture area.

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