The waitress at Hershey’s in Gaithersburg informs me that the restaurant’s famous fried chicken is not Maryland-style, no matter what the joint’s address may be.

“Does that mean you deep fry your chicken?” I ask innocently.

“I can’t even tell you that,” she responds, quick as a whip.

The top-secret nature of Hershey’s fried chicken doesn’t exactly fit with the laid-back country vibe of this late 19th-century house that has served over the years as a general store, post office, and restaurant/watering hole. This is a place for neighborhood gossip over house wine and Keno, not for shadowy secrets protected like classified CIA documents. Hershey’s seems more like a place where the chef would write out the recipe for you if asked.

Twenty-five minutes later, when my made-to-order four-piece dinner finally arrives, I understand all the secrecy. This is top-flight fried chicken, the coating crisp without relying on bread crumbs, panko, or corn flakes. The meat is exquisitely moist, even in the thickest section of the breast; this may be the result of brining but it’s definitely the sign of a fry cook who knows how to keep a steady and proper oil temperature.

Then there are the salt levels, which some might consider high enough to require a side order of blood pressure medication. I consider it proof that Hershey’s kitchen still clings to an earlier era of good taste, not to our current one, which has sacrificed flavor for health, on the questionable assumption that “bad” food alone may shorten our lives.

The saltiness, the crispiness, the moistness, the utter deliciousness. This is chicken that deserves mention with the best around, whether Gillian Clark‘s at the General Store or Adrienne Carter‘s at the Hitching Post.

When I express my deep satisfaction to the waitress, she seems to instantly warm up to our table. She even shares a small, presumably treasonous secret: The chicken coating mix comes from Chicago, of all places, made by a company that prepares it exclusively for the restaurant.

Apocryphal? I don’t care. Any chicken this good needs an equally good story of origin.