Orlando-area residents are flying to The Coop, the newest venture for 4 Rivers Smokehouse founder John Rivers. Rivers recently opened another 4 Rivers barbecue outpost in East Orlando, this one on University Drive, near UCF. But The Coop – ensconced in a comely zone of Winter Park near Hannibal Square – goes in another protein direction altogether: chicken.
Fried chicken with all the fixin's hits your Southern sweet spot — Photo courtesy of Jeff Greenwald
Even so, like its sister restaurants, the methodology is the same: line up, order at the counter, stuff yourself silly. The place has barely been open a week, but already the tradition of "queues for Q" is as alive and well here as it is at the 4 Rivers locations around the metro. Only difference here is they're lining up for clucks. Few, if any, balk at the wait. Most expected as much.
Customers are eager to try new dishes. Fried chicken is the star, of course, though many other Southern delicacies await. Among the entrees: Low Country shrimp and grits, chicken pot pie, smothered pork chops, fried catfish and shrimp, oyster or fried green tomato po’boys. Gourmands looking to dash before dining are welcome to take home a bucket of chicken with family-sized sides and avoid the crush.
The Coop, in all its spacious, renovated glory, sits steps from Hannibal Square — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
The sides (or “fixin's”) are formidable on their own. Rich dishes including mac and three cheeses, hush puppies, skillet corn bread and creamed corn are laden with rich, Southern, diet-busting goodness. Others, like fresh Southern collards or stewed okra and tomatoes, seem more reasonable. (But let’s face it: you didn’t come here to stay true to South Beach, did you?) The Coop’s apps roster alone - think chicken ‘n’ biscuits topped with a maple-bourbon drizzle – is likely to set you back a few thousand calories.
And even if you do show up for salad (Yes, The Coop actually has a couple. Both include bacon!), you may yet be tempted by the in-house desserts of Sweetie Pies, any of which your Carolina-born Mee-Maw may have made back when you were tuggin' at her apron.
You can bring home the nine-inch variety to share, or perhaps pick up a five-inch with two or more forks for your dining partners. Flavors include banana, coconut cream, apple, cherry, blueberry and more.
Hostess, you are done for! The Coop's fried pies — Photo courtesy of The Coop
The closest to guilt-free (and perhaps most artistic looking) are the shot glass versions, layered up in pretty single servings. But for what it’s worth, the mini-pies – hand-held, deep-fried and fruit-filled – are $3.50 worth of regional nostalgia for Southerners who remember roadside peach pie stands, and Gen X nostalgia for Hostess proponents. They’ll find familiar favor in the shape and culinary wonder in the from-scratch flavor.