By Greg Grisolano
PITTSBURG, Kan. — A victor has been declared in the war to decide who serves the best fried chicken in Kansas.
But fans who are eager to know whether Chicken Annie’s or Chicken Mary’s, both hometown favorites, emerged victorious in a blind taste test will have to tune in to the Travel Channel’s latest episode of “Food Wars” at 9 p.m. today.
Neither Donna Lipoglav, co-owner of Chicken Annie’s, nor Karen Zerngast, co-owner of Chicken Mary’s, was willing to say which restaurant had the most to crow about over the competition.
“It was very competitive,” Zerngast said in a phone interview Monday. “But I really can’t say more than that.”
Lipoglav said the real answer to which restaurant serves the best chicken cannot be decided by a TV show.
“According to (the show), they will have answered it, but I think probably everybody has their own opinions,” she said. “If (Chicken Mary’s) didn’t have good food, they wouldn’t have been there this long, and it’s the same for us.”
The “Food Wars” segment looks at the history of the two restaurants, and goes behind the scenes at both locations and talks to their respective fans.
Production crews were on location Jan. 15-17 at Chicken Mary’s and Chicken Annie’s.
Both restaurants have been staples of Crawford County cuisine for generations, and they share a common history and location. The two restaurants were started by wives of miners looking to support their families after injuries and illnesses took a toll on their husbands.
Chicken Annie’s was founded in 1934, and Chicken Mary’s opened for business in 1942. The restaurants are within 300 feet of each other, on a stretch of road that runs through what was once a mining camp known as Yale in rural Crawford County.
The blind taste test took place in Chicken Annie’s lounge, and featured local “celebrity” judges Jack Overman, of Pittsburg, and Crawford County Sheriff Sandy Horton. Each restaurant got to choose a “super fan” for representation at the judges’ table.
Promotional advertisements for the broadcast also feature “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, a former anchorman at KOAM-TV in Pittsburg, weighing in on the food feud.
Both Lipoglav and Zerngast said that regardless of the program’s results, the experience has been a positive one for both businesses.
“It was great advertisement, for both of us,” Zerngast said. “Honestly, I don’t know if we had a bad winter and just now people are coming out, but lately we’ve been really busy. We’ve had a lot of people come out that have never been here before. We’ve had a lot of people come in and say they saw the promos on the Travel Channel.”
Lipoglav said she hopes the program will showcase both restaurants in “a positive light.”
“If it brings people to our area to check things out, that’s probably the most important thing,” she said. “One thing that gets lost is there’s four other pretty good chicken restaurants in the area. So hopefully if people come, they will stay and check them all out.”
Six chicken restaurants in Crawford County — Chicken Mary’s, Chicken Annie’s, Pichler’s Chicken Annie’s, Barto’s Idle Hour, Gebhardt’s Chicken and Chicken Annie’s Girard — were collectively named as one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas Cuisine earlier this year by the Kansas Sampler Foundation.
By Greg Grisolano
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