As you may know, my mother didn’t cook. Well, she made food for us, but she was not happy about it. And so we would look forward to eating out. Sad to say, but restaurant food was always better. My favorite place was called Phil Johnson’s in Northbrook, Illinois.

Here’s what I love about the internet, and I promise I am not digressing here. I wondered if anyone else remembered Phil Johnson’s and so I posted a query on Chowhound. I am so happy to report that I am not alone in my adoration of that restaurant.  The first thing about Phil Johnson’s is that it had a koi pond in the back, right in front of the chicken broaster. So you’d go watch the fish and smell that chicken and just go mad with hunger. When your table was ready, you’d go into the restaurant, which had been a farm house, and sit at heavy wooden tables with substantial chairs. I remember the French fries seemed as if they were a foot long. Many of my Chowhound buddies remember the cheeseburgers sprinkled with paprika. But I remember the Chicken a la King. It came in a thick white oval dish and it was brought to the table all bubbly and fragrant.

I think of Chicken a la King as a Northern dish, which it really is. It’s origins were in New York and there are many stories about who made it first. As you cross the Mason Dixon line, things that have fancy names in the North become “creamed” in the South. We are not fancy people and we tend to give names to things that actually reference the dish.

So last night, I made creamed chicken for the boys. It was delicious, if not in exactly the same way that I remembered Phil Johnson’s version.

I longed for the koi pond.

Creamed Chicken

4 cups chicken stock

4 boneless chicken breasts

1 cup diced carrots

4 tablespoons flour

4 tablespoons butter

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup frozen peas

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a deep sauté pan. Add the chicken breasts and poach them until they’re cooked through, about 12 minutes. Remove the chicken breasts, cool and shred.

Add the diced carrot to the stock and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.

In a saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour. Whisk for a minute to get the raw taste out of the flour. With a strainer, pour the chicken stock into the saucepan, putting the carrots back in the sauté pan. Whisk over medium heat until the sauce thickens. Add the cream. Return the sauce to the sauté pan with the carrots and add the shredded chicken and frozen peas. Add the salt and thyme, taste and correct the seasoning if need be.

Serve in puff pastry cups (Pepperidge Farm in the grocery freezer).


    July 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Creamed chicken [ a la king] was one of my mother’s dishes when she had ladies to lunch, in Atlanta. She most often served it on toast points, along with asparagus spears on the side. She almost always served congealed salads and they were delicious, never those orange, grated carrot yuks. Of course she used salad plates. She used mushrooms and pimentos in the chicken dish instead of peas and carrots. Good memories! Thanks ….

    • the south in my mouth
      the south in my mouthReply
      July 7, 2011 at 6:23 pm

      Your mother sounds like a proper Southern lady!

  2. bluebird
    July 13, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Our family loved Phil’s! I dont know that we ever had the Chix al a King but those fries were AMAZING! We would often take an order or two to-go…as desert! Now, how about a recipe for those fries? 🙂

    • the south in my mouth
      the south in my mouthReply
      July 13, 2011 at 11:43 pm

      I wish I could find what seemed to a child to be the foot-long potatoes they made the fries from! So glad other folks fondly remember Phil’s as well.

  3. Roxanne Gould
    July 15, 2011 at 12:05 am

    I am soooooo making this very soon! Mom used to make it growing up…but it came out of a can! Cant wait…

  4. Kurt
    September 5, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    My Grandmother was a waitress at Phil’s for 52yrs!!! We would go there and pick her up on a summer night. Of course we always had to wait for the tips to be counted, and that meant we sat in the kitchen. My brother and I would be able to get anything on the menu, and of course my calling was the fries!!! My brother was a little brighter than me because he would get a broiled lobster tail.
    We always spent time at the fish pond, but I don’t recall any lights near it, so once it was dark, it was just a pond…

    Memories of youth.
    Thanks for publishing a memory for me.

    • the south in my mouth
      the south in my mouthReply
      September 6, 2011 at 3:18 pm

      I loved that fish pond and the smell of the chickens roasting nearby. My favorite memory, though, was a time when they were raffling off a huge doll house. I wanted that so badly!! I can still taste the fries and the creamed chicken and I don’t think I could ever make either one better than Phil Johnson’s.

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