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Southern-fried frog legs are conversation starter at Mericana

The menu for Mericana is designed with table talk in mind. There’s a selection of macaroni and cheeses, including a chef’s tasting of three varieties, to give customers something to agree on.

Then there’s frog legs. As a subject for debate?

“Absolutely. Without a doubt,” said chef-owner Michael Zambito. From the day he opened Mericana (80 Main St., Lockport, 201-1859, last year, he’s had amphibian on the menu. Turns out there are not many people without an opinion about frog legs.

“It’s taking something unusual, and cooking it in a usual way,” said Zambito, who opened his first place, Zambistro, in Medina nine years ago.

The frog legs come from China, but it’s the all-American presentation that brings customers back for more. In a nod to the Buffalo chicken wing, the accompanying garlic aioli dip is cranked up with a shot of Frank’s cayenne pepper sauce. The salad underneath – celery hearts in buttermilk dressing – includes blue cheese. The crackly golden crust is more Southern-fried soul.

Think impossibly tiny fried chicken drumstick, even more delicate than a chicken wing. The flavor of classic French frog legs, sautéed with garlic, may signal their aquatic origins, but these taste like, well, chicken. That’s how Zambito treats them, too.

“We soak them in buttermilk for at least 24 hours,” he said. “It tenderizes them and helps that breading stick.” Dredged in a mixture of flour, corn starch, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper, they’re fried gently in vegetable oil until they’re golden brown.

Three legs to an order, they’re $8.

“People have tried them on a whim and enjoyed them, and other people who have had frog’s legs before tried them and didn’t like them, because they weren’t traditional,” Zambito said. “Probably 90 percent of the customers think it’s fun and enjoy it.”

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