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Keaton's

17365 Cool Springs Rd, Cleveland, NC - (704) 278-1619
Posted By Michael Stern on 10/15/2007 10:58:00 PM
It is unlikely you will never accidentally drive by Keaton’s, located as it is on Woodleaf Road far from the town of Statesville. That’s why we are forever grateful to Harrell Powell, the Roadfood tipster who wrote us to say that Keaton’s was so good that it was well worth a special trip, so good that it made him cry for joy.

We asked around town and found Keaton’s quickly. All the locals know where it is, for it has been a chicken-eating institution for nearly half a century. It looks great … which is to say that by Roadfood standards it looks great: a weather-beaten shack by the side of the road that could be a truck stop or a honky tonk.

Every evening from Wednesday through Saturday, Keaton’s rough-paved parking lot is mobbed with customers who come to eat here or to take home what is surely some of the best chicken anywhere. The menu calls it barbecued, which it is, sort of, but it is also fried. In fact, what happens is that it is first fried to a crisp then momentarily immersed in a bubbling cauldron of founder B.W. Keaton’s fire-hot barbecue sauce. The hot sauce penetrates the crust and meat of the chicken and caramelizes all around its outside edges, resulting in pieces of chicken that are hot, sweet, and savory all at once: a culinary sensation.

Service is basic. Step up to the counter and order an upper or a lower (the polite country terms for breast or thigh), a half or whole. Pick side dishes from a soulful repertoire of mac & cheese, baked beans, hot-sauce slaw or white-mayo slaw, choose ice tea (sweet, of course) or beer, then go to your assigned table or booth, to which a waitress brings the food, which comes on a plate under a sheet of wax paper. Pull back the paper and inhale: no perfume is so intoxicating.

Note that Keaton's is open only Wednesday through Saturday.

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Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
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Reviewers Photos [Upload Your Photos]

Keaton's chicken is unlike any other:  slightly crisp, slightly caramelized, and shot through with the flavor of the house barbecue sauce.  It is so good it made our tipster weep with joy.
"Keaton's chicken is unlike any other: slightly crisp, slightly caramelized, and shot through with the flavor of the house barbecue sauce. It is so good it made our tipster weep with joy."
Michael Stern





Keaton's excellent macaroni & cheese comes in smallish squares, with a slightly burnt top crust.
"Keaton's excellent macaroni & cheese comes in smallish squares, with a slightly burnt top crust."
Cliff Strutz


Keaten's was selling red velvet cake long before it enjoyed its current vogue.
"Keaten's was selling red velvet cake long before it enjoyed its current vogue."
Michael Stern


Meals arrive under wax paper.  When the paper is removed, the aroma of the chicken envelops the table and will make you dizzy with hunger.
"Meals arrive under wax paper. When the paper is removed, the aroma of the chicken envelops the table and will make you dizzy with hunger."
Michael Stern


Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm good.
"Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm good."
Peter Roaman


This is where you order your food.  Then sit down where you are told and it will be brought to you.
"This is where you order your food. Then sit down where you are told and it will be brought to you."
Michael Stern


From the outside, Keaton's doesn't look like one of America's best restaurants ... but in our book, it is!
"From the outside, Keaton's doesn't look like one of America's best restaurants ... but in our book, it is!"
Michael Stern


You'll need plenty of napkins when you eat Keaton's chicken.  Every table is well-equipped.
"You'll need plenty of napkins when you eat Keaton's chicken. Every table is well-equipped."
Michael Stern


Down to the last finger lick.
"Down to the last finger lick."
Peter Roaman


The main room.
"The main room."
Peter Roaman


Love a good sign.
"Love a good sign."
Peter Roaman


Road sign.
"Road sign."
Peter Roaman


We don't know what 'taste test' this sign refers to, but it must be a good one.  The results are impeccable.
"We don't know what 'taste test' this sign refers to, but it must be a good one. The results are impeccable."
Michael Stern



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