Red’s Famous Fried Chicken in Tyler isn’t like your typical chicken joint.
Whether it’s the family-style servings, the seasoning he puts in his chicken marinade or the overall menu offerings, proprietor Ed Robleski has gone to great lengths to make dining at Red’s something truly unique for his customers.
“I wanted to come in with very simple, but very satisfying recipes that met peoples’ needs as far as being part of a family. So it’s all about family orientation, family centric, to use your term,” Robleski said. “I think that’s what the site needs, based on the previous occupants, but I also think it’s what Tyler is all about. Tyler is very conservative and family-oriented. Community is very important to Tyler. So, I’m trying to satisfy the needs of Tyler as a community, and there’s just nothing else like this in Tyler.”
If you’re unfamiliar yet with Red’s, Robleski — who runs the restaurant alongside his wife, Lisa — doesn’t blame you. He readily acknowledged the lightning-quick pace at which the venue changed from El Chico Tyler Ranch to Red’s Famous Fried Chicken, leaving little time to build awareness and momentum for a brand new, original entity.
“That’s one of the battles that I am fighting. We came in so fast and so quiet, no one knows what Red’s is. It’s the first of its kind in the entire universe,” he said.
Robleski, a third-generation restaurateur who was born in Chicago but grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, hatched the idea with his wife in June. After realizing that some former associates from his time working for El Chico’s parent company were looking to relieve ownership of the venue (next to Toys R Us on Loop 323), Robleski quickly formed a team of investors, created Red’s LP, and by Oct. 8 had remodeled the venue and reopened it as Red’s Famous.
Red’s truly is the antithesis of the previous restaurant that occupied the space. As some will recall, there was much brouhaha over it potentially becoming a Hooters-esque restaurant featuring scantily clad waitresses. That concept was significantly toned down, but the toxicity remained as, according to Robleski, it was still something of a rough joint with bar fights and police being called in as a fairly regular point of order.
Now — in both an effort to shed the toxicity of the pervious occupants but also to expand Robleski’s culinary vision — it’s all about family. That means family-style servings (a concept that is new to Tyler’s restaurant scene), family-friendly atmosphere and even recipes that were handed down from Robleski’s mother and grandmother.
“When folks come in, we’re trying to conjure up images and memories of going to grandma’s house for dinner,” he said. “All the chicken comes out on big platters, the sides come out in big bowls, and everyone just helps themselves. It’s a big dinner.”
The menu is simple. Whether lunch or dinner (portions vary depending), you can choose from traditional fried chicken, chicken strips, chicken fried steak or fried (American, farm-raised) catfish. With every order also come unlimited servings of sides: mashed potatoes (lumps and skins included), creamed whole-kernel corn, green beans, salad and fresh, homemade biscuits.
“I bring all the products in fresh. Everything is made fresh. So it’s a high-quality product served in good quantities at a reasonable price,” Robleski said. “But it’s all about family. I can’t stress that enough.”
Robleski said he was drawn to the concept of a dedicated chicken restaurant because it is a tough thing to cook at home.
“Not a lot of people cook it at home, but it is one of the most well-received, most popular items in the restaurant business today,” he said. “You think back to when grandma was cooking it, using a cast-iron skillet on the stove, and that just doesn’t happen in this generation.”
But any dedicated chicken restaurant is only as strong as the bird it serves, and Robleski is using a recipe that he admitted might not be quite what people are expecting. For the fried chicken, Robleski marinates the whole, fresh chicken for 24 hours in a brine with eight different spices.
“And some of (those spices) are very predominant and are unusual for fried chicken. And I have some people that just rave about it, they love it,” he said. “But it’s just unique enough that’s it’s not satisfactory to some peoples’ palettes. I know that. It’s a personal preference kind of thing. But the feedback that I’ve gotten within these four walls is positive enough that I know it’s something that can work.”
Robleski has taken great efforts to make sure that his offerings are not only unique but also accommodating to his customers. Separate fryers are used to cook the chicken, steak and catfish, not only to ensure that tastes aren’t mixed, but also to ensure that people with specific allergies can eat at his restaurant. (He had someone with a chicken allergy ask if he fried things separately.) Robleski said he’s out to curate a progression of tastes that leaves customers with a unique experience.
“It’s all part of a taste profile. If you go through the whole meal, all the way from salad to dessert, all the flavors and textures and presentation are intended to blend. And when you leave, you have a very clean taste on your palette,” he said. “Everything is intended to be very light but also very flavorful.”
The menu may be simple, but Robleski said he is in pursuit of perfection of a few things rather than offering a broader selection of items. He said he might consider rotating out a few of the side dishes, but the main entr￩es will likely remain as they are for the foreseeable future.
As for the all-important question of whether Robleski prefers white meat or dark meat?
“I’m a dark meat man,” he said.
Red’s Famous Fried Chicken is at 426 ESE Loop 323 in Tyler next to Toys R Us. Hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week. Catering also is available. For more information, call 903-534-5000.