Name: Phil's Chicken House
Location: 1208 Maine Rd., Endicott, NY 13760
Phone: (607) 748-6855
Cuisine: American BBQ
Price: $10-$15 per adult, $5-$10 per child
Phil's Chicken House has been a Southern Tier institution for close to fifty years, offering take-out, buffet-style BBQ chicken dinners, and a Sunday brunch buffet to longtime local patrons and curious outsiders. Having never been, we decided to go for dinner last night for the buffet, which they offer seven days a week with some variations depending on which night you go.
The restaurant is one of very few in the West Corners area just north and west of Endicott. Upon arriving at Phil's for the buffet, you'll want to enter through the back, which means parking behind the restaurant and finding the entrance for the lower level. You can also enter via the upper floor but will be directed to take the stairs off the right to find the dining room. We found the dining room to be typical of what you'd expect of a "family restaurant," with a few booths along the left and some larger tables to accommodate bigger parties on the right side. A waitress came by and took our drink order and provided us a large bucket in which to place the chicken bones.
The buffet ($9.99 per adult) is not gigantic in size, but has a lot of really good options. For soups, they have both chicken noodle and cream of broccoli available regularly. A few different kinds of bread (white, garlic, banana, and pumpkin varieties) were available. There's a full salad bar complete with side salads--potato, macaroni, cole slaw. And then there was the main courses, BBQ chicken, spare ribs, beef tips, real homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni and cheese, a seafood casserole, rice pilaf, buttered green beans, and perhaps a few other things I didn't get to. I did my best to try everything, but as soon as I tried the chicken, I knew I'd be eating more of that than anything else.
The soup was good if unremarkable, and I enjoyed the salad bar too. The potato salad was pretty delicious and I'm not sure if the Thousand Island dressing was homemade or not, but whatever it was, I liked it. The pumpkin bread (not something I usually enjoy) was a definite highlight also--very moist and well-spiced and just overall very tasty.
The real draw of Phil's Chicken House, is, obviously, the BBQ chicken. A little research has turned up that the style of chicken that Phil's serves is unique to this area (the Southern Tier region south of the Finger Lakes) and is called Cornell Chicken, thus named due to its being invented by a professor at Cornell back in the 1940's. This style involves marinading the chicken in a mixture of egg, vegetable oil, cider vinegar, salt, poultry seasoning, and black pepper before grilling. I'm not sure if Phil's uses this recipe or some variant thereof, but this was some of the most tender, delicious chicken I've ever had. I admired that it wasn't at all greasy, but rather juicy with tons of flavor.
The chicken was, in my mind, the only real standout on the buffet. The barbecued spare ribs were passable, but left me pining for the recently-departed Theo's. The beef tips were tasty if perhaps a little on the tough side, while the mashed potatoes and mac & cheese were good but not transcendent.
When it came time for dessert, I opted to try the dessert of the month, Cherry Cobbler. It should be noted that while desserts are not available on the buffet, you get a free dessert with the purchase of the buffet. So definitely save a little room. The cherry cobbler was really tasty with fresh real whipped cream on top. It was pretty much like eating really good cherry pie out of a cup. I would certainly order it again, given the opportunity.
Overall, if you're looking for a solid home-style, family restaurant in the Triple Cities, Phil's Chicken House is exactly what you're looking for. This would be an excellent place to bring families with small children and the grandparents alike; there's certainly something for everyone to enjoy. From my "foodie" perspective, the Cornell Chicken is reason enough for me to make a return visit. Next time you're thinking of heading over to the Cracker Barrel, I encourage you to consider giving Phil's your business instead.