Sheng Long Yu is on an absolute tear. In the last year and a half alone, he has opened Dagu Rice Noodle shops in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Atlanta, a poke restaurant called iPoke near the Cleveland Clinic, and a shimmering new Shinto Japanese Steakhouse in Westlake to complement the 16-year-old original in Strongsville. Those eclectic Asian eateries join two Kenko Sushi locations in Cleveland and Kent. And, as if all that wasn’t enough to keep the peripatetic operator fully occupied, Yu recently debuted Hell’s Fried Chicken near the Case Western Reserve University campus.
This super-niche concept has been in the works for a couple years, but was delayed numerous times, largely because the location was switched in the eleventh hour. What Yu could not have known back when he first put pen to paper was just how well-timed the arrival would be. While there is plenty of seating inside the 1,600-square-foot store for those who elect to dine onsite, Hell’s Fried Chicken is built for swift exchanges. On a typical day, diners can be in and out with hot, fresh food in less than 10 minutes. I say “typical day” because that isn’t always the case, as evidenced by a recent visit that lasted more than double that owing to what appeared to be an under-staffing issue.
With a name like Hell’s, the natural assumption might be that this fast-casual operation deals in trendy Nashville-style hot chicken, but that’s not the case. The starring attraction is indeed fried chicken, but it arrives wholly unadorned save for the incredibly crispy coating. That’s not to say that heat-seekers are left high and dry; the house special sauce, appropriately titled “Spicy as Hell’s,” is no joke. But like all of the seven sauces, it is served on the side for dipping.
In terms of pieces-parts, the bird is available a la carte as tenders ($1.25), whole wings ($1.50) and thighs ($1.50). Most people opt for one of the six different combos, meals that bundle one or more of those cuts in various quantities with fries, sides and a drink. (There also is a two-tender sandwich combo meal.) Unless you’re dining in, when the food is delivered on a tray, the meals are packed with sauces into a bright, colorful and convenient cardboard carrying case emblazoned with the warning: “This is hot!”
Objectively speaking, Hell’s is making some of the best fried chicken in town. The proprietary process, which includes marinating, breading and frying, results in a light, pale and uber-crunchy coating that stays crisp for a remarkably long time. That shell also keeps the meat inside mega-hot and super-juicy. I’ve always been a thigh guy because most white-meat preparations result in a dry, cottony texture. These finger-licking-good tenders have made a convert out of me.
Sauces arrive in small, unmarked plastic ramekins that leave diners guessing as to what’s what. The only insignia on seven different cuplets (yes, I ordered all seven) is a single “S” on the Spicy as Hell’s, which, like the Red Devil (medium) and Hell’s Original (mild), is a thick mayo-based dip. Others include a dark, sweet and smoky barbecue, thin teriyaki glaze and buttery garlic parmesan.
Combo meals ($7.50-$9.25) include seasoned curly fries and garlic toast that curiously makes use of a split-top hotdog bun. Neither the fries nor the toast hold up as well as the fried chicken, so don’t sleep on them for too long. One side is included in the bargain, a choice of slaw, mashed potatoes and fried mac and cheese. The mashed potatoes are smooth and creamy, capped with a salty but pleasant gravy. The fried mac and cheese, which is molded into the shape of a wee little wedge, has a rich, flavorful filling and thin, crisp coating.
Any day now, Hell’s Fried Chicken will roll out its online ordering system, which should speed up an already rapid process. As for parking, there is a small, convenient metered lot right around the corner on Mayfield that always seems to have open spots.
Given Yu's penchant for expansion, I asked him if diners could expect future Hell's Fried Chicken locations around town.
"There are a lot of opportunities in this area, so we are definitely looking to expand this concept," he says.
Hell's Fried Chicken
11324 Euclid Ave., Cleveland