Galvin’s fried chicken in St. Joseph is still worth the trip

If you can’t eat fried chicken without a cold beer or a daiquiri cocktail, you may be in for a disappointment if you make a return visit to the iconic Galvin’s Dinner House in St. Joseph, Missouri. 

When the 75-year-old fried-chicken restaurant at 6802 Highway 371 reopened in May 2013 after a fire three years earlier destroyed the kitchen and one of the dining rooms, owner Bill Grace made the decision not to continue serving alcoholic beverages in his renovated business.

“We weren’t selling that much liquor anyway,” one of the servers explained to me on Sunday afternoon. “Most of our customers want coffee, tea or lemonade.”

Galvin’s started out as a gas station in the 1940s, and the original owners — Roy and Dottie Galvin — made a little extra money selling fried chicken (with fries and cole slaw) in a basket to the locals and to bus passengers who arrived at the Highway 371 location on their way to Kansas City. In those days, the Galvins even raised their own chickens in a pen behind the gas station.

Over the years, the gas pumps were removed, and the building was transformed into a genteel dining room serving pan-fried chicken dinners, grilled steaks and pork chops, and braised pork chops (which must be ordered in advance) served with a white vermouth sauce. 

The live chickens had to go away, too: FDA regulations forced the Galvins to stop serving the freshly slaughtered chickens in 1950.

Bill Grace, the current owner, started working at Galvin’s as a teenage busboy and dishwasher in 1972 and ultimately bought the business 17 years later. Grace changed very little about the fried-chicken recipe, which is still served family-style with soup and salad; slices of freshly baked bread; and bowls of mashed potatoes, cream gravy, green beans and sweet corn.

Back when The Pitch reviewed Galvin’s in 2004, the venue’s family-style meals also included muffins and a slightly different salad selection (there was a slab of frozen-fruit salad on the list). Today, the muffins are history, and salads include a small garden salad with a choice of house-made dressings, a spinach salad —with the original warm bacon dressing — and either peaches and cottage cheese or peaches with cranberry relish.

Fans of the fat, juicy fried chicken pieces at Stroud’s (the local chicken empire that recently opened its fourth metro location in Independence on May 11) may be put off by the smaller, daintier chicken parts served at Galvin’s; comparing the two birds is like comparing buffed-up John Cena to, say, Beck.

But the meals are inexpensive and very tasty and just as delicious with a glass of ice-cold milk as they are with a glass of a good burgundy.  But if you must have wine, go ahead and bring it. “Our patrons can bring in their own wine,” says the server. “We’re just not allowed to pour it.”

Categories: Dining, Food & Drink