We needed to get out of the house. We needed to see friends. We needed – fried chicken. Like so many others, my husband and I have been doing everything possible to follow the guidelines for staying home, physical distancing and avoiding unnecessary travel.
But it was time to venture out and put some miles on the car. Sadly, there really are not many places to go still. That was until I noticed Knott’s Berry Farm had opened their To-Go window for take-out fried chicken. Under usual circumstances I’d never travel 100 miles just for a meal, but these are not normal circumstances. So, on Tuesday afternoon, I sent a text to some friends who live in Glendale and suggested we meet at Knott’s to pick up chicken and go to a local city park for a responsibly distanced picnic the upcoming Saturday.
Having something to look forward to at last gave us all a real lift in our spirits.
Another reason I wanted to do this was the fact that Knott’s has released a cookbook to celebrate its 100th anniversary. A search on eBay and Amazon confirmed that Knott’s does not frequently share their recipes. The only other Knott’s cookbook I could find was published back in 1976. I’d been looking for copycat recipe for their chicken noodle soup, but nothing I’d found looked quite right. Now Knott’s was sharing the exact recipe — this was a no brainer! The book is only $20 via Knott's website, but shipping to San Diego was an extra $18. Why spend that money for postage when a road trip was sorely needed, and fresh fried chicken and pie was in the same spot as the book?
After an easy 90-minute drive we were in the Knott's California Marketplace parking lot, in the shade of the still-silent Ghost Rider. When you arrive, a host asks if you are there for pick-up or walk in. Prepaid on-line orders are delivered to your car in a special area, or you can walk in and go to the counter yourself. I’d preordered my book, but we were going to order food at the counter. I was pleasantly surprised by how many others were doing the same thing we were. There must have been 20 or 30 other cars in the lot. People in masks would head towards the Marketplace passing people also in masks returning to their cars with bags full of chicken and bakery items.
There was a short wait outside of the walk-up counter and groups were doing a good job of staying on the spacing stickers on the ground. Once inside, the ordering process is easy enough if you take into account the need to speak through a mask to a team member behind plexiglass. The key is patience and kindness. Smiles are impossible to see, but they are understood and appreciated.
A great surprise was the addition of picnic tables in the road that runs through the Marketplace. A few were in the shade, others had umbrellas. Knott’s staff would swoop in between parties to clean the tables as much from spilled gravy and pie crumbs as possible contamination from Covid-19.
The food is of course fantastic. Jamie and I each got a three-piece meal box. They with a breast, thigh and a leg and include corn, mashed potatoes with gravy and two buttermilk biscuits with boysenberry jam. I added a bowl of the chicken noodle soup. I really should have gone with a two piece as the soup is so thick and filling. Our friends Joe and Brad got a bucket of chicken to split. It came with family sized sides and more biscuits. The upside of their meal was the inclusion of plates. We had to eat out of the boxes, which was not ideal.
After enjoying our meal, we went for a visit to the bakery and Berry Market. We brought home a boysenberry pie and a couple of wonderful Snoopy cookies. In the Marketplace, I picked up a can of boysenberry pie filling with a mix to make shortcakes and a jar of fancy jam.
The store looked great. Shelves were wonderfully stocked which was a refreshing sight when we’ve all been facing understocked grocery stores for so long.
They are operating in a post-Covid fashion when it comes to checking out. At the register, the clerk is behind plexiglass and wearing a mask, which caused communication to be a bit difficult. He pointed to a scanner and I misunderstood a request to scan my ID. I said I was not an Annual Pass holder. I was told I’d actually be scanning all of my purchases myself. I made a lame joke asking if I’d get a discount for doing this bit of work myself and felt stupid immediately afterwards for doing so. After scanning the three products I was able to use Apple Pay to cover my costs. A wooden barrel was just next to the counter holding brown paper shopping bags to sack up my purchases. Then a receipt popped up for me to grab myself. It’s all very efficient and slightly sterile. Not that that is at all a bad thing right now.
I know everyone is missing visits to favorite parks. Of all the elements to a day at a park, the one I miss most is spending time with friends. Getting to go to (well... near) Knott’s and spend time with Brad and Joe helped make up for these last few months. Another element many of us are missing is the unique and delicious food the parks offer. Butterbeer, Dole Whip, corndogs, Boysenberry slushes, churros, and so many others will be back eventually, but Knott’s has found a way to tickle our taste buds a bit early. The bakery and to-go counter let us load up on park food even with the park still closed.
Then there is the cookbook.
You guys... get one. It includes 27 authentic recipes including Mrs. Knott’s fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, Ghost Town Grill Beef Stew, Boysenberry BBQ Italian meatballs, pork chops in lemon caper sauce, several alcoholic drinks AND the chicken noodle soup. It’s also a beautiful and colorful book full of lovely photos and illustrations of the development of the restaurant and the beginnings of the park. There are amazing photos showing the sprawling kitchen and service areas as they looked back in the 1930s and 40s. There are also wonderful photos not only of the Knott family, but of the staff - both front and back of house who brought the place to life.
On the last page of the book there is a photo of more than 100 waitresses posing for what can only be described as a yearbook photo. The caption states, “The waitresses at the Chicken Dinner Restaurant were trained in service, etiquette, and appearance. Regardless if they stayed at the restaurant for a summer or for decades, they were part of the Farm family.” I’m a history buff and appreciate when efforts are made for authenticity. The photos of the completed food from the recipes are taken on the same pattern of Homer Laughlin china Mrs. Knott used to serve on in the early years. It was in fact her wedding china, how special was that?
Parks are beginning to open, so the need to do a trip like this may not exist for very much longer. I’m just thankful to Knott’s for opening this small part of their operation early, and for publishing a book that really brings the origins of America’s first theme park to delicious life.
Update from Robert: June 9 — Knott's announced this morning that today it has reopened Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant, Starbucks, Cable Car Kitchen, Peanuts Headquarters, Candy Parlour, Marketplace Emporium, and Virginia's Gift Shop, in addition to the already open Chicken-To-Go, Berry Market, and Bakery. All locations are operating at 50 percent capacity and face coverings are required (except while eating). Watch the signs for social distancing.
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For discounted tickets to Knott's Berry Farm (which you can use when the park reopens), please visit our travel partner's Knott's Berry Farm tickets page.
Terrific article, Rob! I so wish that my local, Cedar Point, would put more emphasis on their culinary history. It's a rich history that has mostly been forgotten. I also wish that Cedar Fair parks would actually work together to promote each other's food items throughout the chain. A Knott's Marketplace at Cedar Point would be a dream come true! Strangely, before Cedar Fair bought Knott's, they offered Knotts Jellies in their Hotel Breaker's Coffee Shop. As soon as they acquired Knott's into the Cedar Fair family, the Knott's jellies disappeared. Must be some stupid legal thing :+(
I'll use this as an excuse to point out that Knott's doesn't sell the "Knott's Berry Farm" brand stuff at the park anymore, since that's a ConAgra brand now. Knott's is selling its own "Berry Market" brand, which I find infinitely superior to the stuff you can buy at your local supermarket. I'd stocked up at the Berry Market store before the Boysenberry Festival media preview event (sniff!), since I was concerned then that I would not be able to make it down to Buena Park for a refill for a while. Glad I did! But I'm even happier that the best jams and jellies on the planet are available again.
James - talk about a cross promotion dream. I agree that it must be something litigious that keeps there from being a Mrs. Knott's Chicken dinner restaurant from coming to the other Cedar Fair parks. I wonder why there have never been any attempts to create a national chain out of Knott's chicken and bakery items. I could imagine something a lot like Cracker Barrel with a bakery/market in front and an adjacent restaurant. I would be great to hear back from anyone who may know more about why there were never any attempts to expand the brand in this way.
I think it's kind of funny to see so many restaurants and retailers trying to adapt to reduced dining room/interior capacities and/or al fresco-only dining restrictions. Many places in the DC area are placing tables in parking spots or on sidewalks trying gain any dine-in business they can drum up. I don't really see the point, but I certainly give some of these places an "A" for creativity.
Russell Meyer: What do you mean when you say you don't see the point? Not trying to be antagonistic. Genuinely just want to know what you see flawed in this approach.
I don't see the point in trying to jury-rig outdoor seating to accommodate a dozen or so diners. Restaurants are spending all of this extra money to either buy new outdoor tables and chairs (along with umbrellas and other coverings) or modify indoor seating for outdoor use as well as on the extra time and effort it takes employees to serve exterior seating areas that are more distant from the kitchen with doors/access not designed for frequent use, certainly not for servers carrying trays of food and beverages. Also, there's the questionable legality of restaurants setting up seating in outdoor areas like on sidewalks (rendering them impassable to mobility impaired pedestrians), under trees and in grass (impacting drainage and growth in these areas), and in parking lots (affecting traffic flow and emergency access).
All of this effort and potential skirting of rules, regulations, and laws just to serve a few dozen extra diners per day just doesn't make much sense.
If my taste remembers correctly, the Con Agra brand of boysenberry jam in supermarkets is the same as was sold at Knott's before Cedar Fair. When Cedar Fair took over, it introduced the Berry Market premium brand, which was superior quality and claimed to use Mrs. Knott's original recipe.
Concerning a chain of restaurants, there was an attempt to open standalone restaurants, I remember there was a Mrs. Knott's restaurant, I think in Irvine, in the 1990s. But my impression was that it could not duplicate the feeling of the original Chicken Dinner restaurant.
I love Knott's, especially because of my childhood memories of eating at the Chicken Dinner restaurant, but truthfully, the fried chicken at Disneyland's Plaza Inn is better. The Plaza Inn chicken is broasted, while Mrs. Knott's is double fried.
I think a Mrs. Knott's restaurant is still possible, but you would have to decide whether you want to attract young adults with a hip atmosphere like the present Chicken Dinner restaurant, or attract families with an old school kitschy atmosphere. I don't know, the relaunch of old school Farrell's failed.
Mrs. Knott's has one very important thing going for it. It reminds me of the fried chicken my Grandmother used to make in her kitchen. It was not fancy or very highly seasoned, but it was home made and I loved it. I can't disagree with you Disfan. I really like the simple taste of Mrs. Knott's, but I think Plaza Inn is more flavorful. Other than the chicken soup, I also think the sides at Mrs. Knott's are pretty basic but sometimes you don't need or want to be challenged, you just want comfort.
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Great read! Glad you got to do this and enjoy a break from the distance of friends.