In 2017, the final Columbus location of the popular Bonchon Chicken chain closed, leaving a void the shape of a Korean-fried drumstick. But in October of last year, CM Chicken (short for Choong Man) opened on Henderson Road, providing a much-needed fix for twice-fried Korean chicken.
CM Chicken, a less polished chain than Bonchon, has a franchise feel, with large printouts of newspaper accolades, a la Five Guys, and logoed carryout containers evocative of Kentucky Fried Chicken. But thanks to its menu, Ohio’s first location of the chain still brings plenty of originality to the table.
With no discernible host to direct dine-in clientele and the carryout crowd, seating in the 14-table restaurant can be chaotic. A tiny entryway means that hungry guests lurk less than 2 feet away from seated diners. K-pop videos and Korean-themed cooking shows provide entertainment while you wait. There’s an art to the staggered seating of diners—so servers and line cooks aren’t forced to serve half the restaurant at the same time—and CM is still figuring that out.
The chicken, however, is worth the wait. The menu features shareable fried chicken wings and giant tenders, as well as whole or half birds in a variety of styles and sauces; every option showcases crispy and tender chicken dredged in flour for a textured exterior, slightly thicker than Bonchon’s. The sauce-covered chicken options are a dry cleaner’s dream, but boxes of plastic gloves and napkin dispensers help to mitigate sticky fingers.
Side dishes are served in advance. Both the vinegar-based coleslaw ($4.99) and the off-menu pickled radishes help to cut through the richness of the chicken. And the Korean concept of chimaek (hot chicken with cold beer) is taken seriously here, with pre-frosted mugs to hold an array of Korean beers or Platform Beer Co.’s Haze Jude IPA ($8).
The onion dishes, some of which are listed under “Snow” on the menu, are memorable. The Snow Onion Wings ($16.99) include a mountain of cool, thinly sliced onions in a thin, mayo-based dressing that creates a tangy glaze on the unadorned wings. (When asked about ingredients, the owner shared that the sauce was shipped from Korea and mixed onsite.)
The Soy Garlic Spring Onion Chicken dish ($16.99) presents a bright-meets-heavy flavor and texture combination. A nest of sharp and spicy green onions, cut lengthwise, creates magic with the soy and garlic sauce poured over the chicken.
Consider an order of the Tikku Soy Sauce Gizzards ($12). The chewy, bite-size organs are fried, tossed in a soy glaze and then charcoal-smoked for an intense flavor. The same process is used for the Red Hot Pepper Tikkudak ($16.99), though the smokiness gets lost in the super-spicy sauce.
Though its front-of-house experience could use some ironing out, CM Chicken shows considerable promise thanks to expertly executed fried chicken and several truly original dishes.