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Larry Legend Reviews DJ Khaled’s New Restaurant

Chicago’s foremost wing aficionado surveys The Licking, the DJ’s Miami-style soul food spot in Austin.

Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

Most people know me for my love of Harold’s chicken, but believe it or not, I like other foods, too! And even though I’m from the South Side, I cannot deny that the West Side also has some legendary food establishments: Tastebuds, MacArthur’s Soul Food, Uncle Remus. So when I learned that DJ Khaled had opened a soul food restaurant called the Licking on the exact same street as those, the first thing I said to myself was, “Who are his advisors?!”

This South Austin location (5045 W. Madison St.) is part of a chain that the hip hop DJ started in his hometown of Miami. It was originally called Finga Licking — until Colonel Sanders put a stop to that. So my next step was to ask some friends in Florida, “Can DJ Khaled even cook?” To which most replied, “No.” I also knew some people who had been to the one here and were not impressed. (We’re never impressed.) Nevertheless, I have my own taste buds, so I decided to go with my cousin Josh to see for myself.

The set-up

The place is split between an order-out side and a dine-in side in back. The parking lot is atrocious, with cars being double parked, blocked in, left foot in, right foot out, all types of foolishness that I refused to be a part of. So I parked on the street, which was free. The decor is pretty basic, with a couple of flat-screen TVs that probably show things like Roots. Hip hop was playing in the dining room.

The service

We went on a Wednesday afternoon and had to wait through what would have been half an episode of Roots before we were finally seated. The wait staff was mostly women who probably hold 100K followers on IG combined. (If you know, you know.) Our waitress, Catrice, seemed knowledgeable of the menu items and made suggestions. I don’t know if they secretly knew I was there to do a review, but a manager came out to check on us. Based simply on his apparel and gold teeth, he could not have been from Chicago. (I’m going with Miami.)

The wings

We ordered the sampler. That’s nine wings in three flavors: hot, lemon pepper, and something called Fingalickin. The wings were 3rd grade size, which was disappointing. But the hot sauce was cool, and the lemon pepper was perfect. As a mild sauce enthusiast, I did not enjoy the Fingalickin. Weird aftertaste. All in all, these wings were certainly not, in the words of DJ Khaled, “the best.”

Chicken rolls

I still don’t know what these rolls actually consist of, but they were delicious and, with the dipping sauce, the best thing I tried at the restaurant. Definitely a go-to item.

Fried shrimp dinner

The shrimp were a very nice size. Bigger than the wings for sure. I loved the batter that they used, which gave it an island/Miami style flavor, and it was accompanied by a sweet chili style sauce.

Fried lobster dinner

The fried lobster dinner with mac & cheese, sweet potatoes, and Mystery Drink Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

I ordered the fried lobster tail, but it came out as bites. I don’t know if they got my order wrong or if that’s just how they prepare their lobster tail in Miami, but I would never pay $23 again for some lobster bites. They were seasoned with the same style batter as the shrimp, so they weren’t bad — just not enough. The manager suggested I try a couple sauces with the lobster. And he was on point! Kudos to you, my guy.

The sides

My cousin and I ordered the same ones: macaroni and sweet potatoes, aka the Jordan and Pippen of soul food. But in this case, it was more like the Cuttino Mobley and Steve Francis. The macaroni was baked, so that’s a plus, but the sweet potatoes were not sweet enough or cooked long enough for my liking.

The drink

Major Key Alert! If you don’t suffer from diabetic issues, get the “mystery drink”! It was the best. It was like if lemonade and Kool-Aid decided to do a Watch the Throne album. And I’m not just saying any old Kool-Aid. I’m talking about the kind you can’t see through.

Overall

I’d rate my experience as fair. The Licking is not the best restaurant I’ve ever been to but it’s better than most. My cousin enjoyed it more, but Josh is the type of guy who would eat White Castles in the daytime, so that doesn’t say much. I would go back. But I just wonder, with so many legendary staples down the road, whether the Licking will still be there.

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