It’s 4 p.m. on a Tuesday, and already the aggressively dark dining room at Sisters and Brothers is packed. Seemingly, no one in this city holds traditional office hours—at least when fried chicken is involved.
From the moment the kicky, casual Georgetown restaurant across from Boeing Field opened in March, its staff has been scurrying to keep up with a demand that caught owner Jake Manny off guard. When the Bainbridge native was planning to return home at the end of a stint in Nashville, the two things he says he needed were his fiancée, Olivia Hall, and access to hot chicken—a Nashville variety of fried chicken that gets its deeply nuanced, addictive flavor (and intense heat) from a blend of spices and lard applied before and after its dance in the cast-iron skillet.
His concept for the all-ages Sisters and Brothers (Georgetown, 1128 S Albro Place; 206.762.3767; sistersandbrothersbar.com) was primarily as a bar, with the hot chicken as addendum. His original bartending-only staff was prepared to run “maybe seven pieces of chicken a night.” But quickly, Manny says, “Everyone was going nuts for the chicken.”
While Manny’s story may sound unique, his passionate appreciation of chicken’s deliciousness is not: Brian O’Connor (Bok A Bok), Monica Dimas (Sunset Fried Chicken Sandwiches), Josh Henderson (Poulet Galore) and Harold Fields (Umami Kushi) are among the chefs flipping the bird, so to speak, to anyone who thinks chicken is the most boring pick on the menu.
Winner, winner: rotisserie chicken at Poulet Galore in South Lake Union
Remember when legendary West Seattle eatery Spring Hill launched its Monday-night fried chicken feasts in 2010? The astounding popularity spurred the restaurant’s rebranding in 2012 to Ma‘ono Fried Chicken and Whisky. Its chicken is still among the best in town. And, of course, Seattle has long been in love with Ezell’s—our resident grab-and-go option.
The stats prove it: The National Chicken Council predicts Americans will eat, on average, 92 pounds of chicken per person in 2016—more than double the amount we ate as a country 50 years ago. (The national consumption of beef and pork, on the other hand, has actually gone down.) Locally, Draper Valley Farms—the Pacific Northwest chicken producer of choice among many Washington and Oregon restaurants because of its free-range, organic options—says it has “seen demand trend up double digits” in the past three to four years, according to Jake Fazio, vice president of West Coast sales.
When O’Connor (formerly of Skillet Diner and, most recently, Roux) and partner Alex Prindle opened the cartoonishly colorful Bok A Bok in White Center (1521 SW 98th St., 206.693.2493; bokabokchicken.com) on June 1, they went through some 500 pounds of chicken on their second day (and still had to close the doors before 6 p.m.). The tiny two-tops here are so close together, you can hear the audible crunching and orgasmic “ohmygod” murmured between bites at the table next to you. Their approach to the chicken trend is fast, casual, Korean-influenced fried chicken based on chicken Prindle ate in New York City last year.
“I took one bite and was really blown away because of that paper-thin batter and super crunch [typical of Korean fried chicken],” Prindle says. “I immediately texted chef Brian and said, ‘Do you know anything about Korean fried chicken? Have you had this?’” The answer was no, but O’Connor rose to the challenge, and the two of them—with partners Jael DeLeonardis and Damiana O’Connor—got to work coming up with a signature style: the double-fried crunch, but served with the sauce on the side so you can doctor each bite in four-chile hot sauce, sesame-soy-garlic sauce, Korean barbecue sauce or house-made ranch sauce.
There are liberties taken from both a Southern and Korean standpoint, but it works. (For a more traditional Korean fried chicken experience, try the newly remodeled Stars in the Sky in Edmonds; starsintheskywa.com.)
Korean isn’t the only fried chicken having a moment. Chicken doesn’t get much trendier than at chef Monica Dimas’ Sunset Fried Chicken Sandwiches (Capitol Hill, 1610 12th Ave.; sunsetfriedchicken.com), a counter serving fried chicken sandwiches in the back corner of Rachel’s Ginger Beer’s (RGB) all-ages Capitol Hill location. Dimas and RGB owner Rachel Marshall are no strangers, given that Dimas already oversees dining options both inside Marshall’s Nacho Borracho bar and next door to Marshall’s other bar, Montana. Sunset was born out of an idea that came about last year—before fried chicken sandwiches had reached quite the current fever pitch (thanks, David Chang and Shake Shack).
Dimas’ secret: brined Draper Valley chicken thighs, dredged in buttermilk and flour, and served between fluffy Franz buns. “I totally believe in the dark meat,” Dimas says. “It has that extra fattiness, juiciness, and it’s thinner, so it doesn’t have to be cooked as long.” Her recipe is based on a staff “family meal” she had while working at acclaimed contemporary Southern eatery McCrady’s in Charleston years ago, but she has taken the simple perfection of that fried chicken and placed it between two buns. There’s an original sandwich with dill pickles and cabbage slaw, but you’d be remiss to not order the GT—a take on sticky sweet and spicy General Tso’s chicken (“It’s one of my favorite gross things!” says Dimas) made popular when it was offered as a special at Neon Taco, her space at Nacho Borracho.
But fried isn’t the only way to serve a chicken. “We always joke about what we’d eat on a desert island,” says restaurateur and chef Josh Henderson, whose rotisserie chicken walk-up window, Poulet Galore (South Lake Union, 500 Fairview Ave. N; pouletgalore.com), opened this summer (one of 10 restaurants owned by his restaurant collective, Huxley Wallace). “I eat a lot of chicken…even cold roasted chicken with mayonnaise is one of the world’s greatest foods.”
Poulet Galore originated partly because Henderson really loves the simplicity of a Parisian-style roasted chicken, and he had a small space available that was perfect for a takeout operation. He’s the first to agree that Costco makes a really delicious roasted chicken for $4.99, but his birds are quality, organic birds from Mad Hatcher Farm. “Chicken is similar to eggs,” Henderson says. “It’s incredibly easy to f*** it up and challenging to make it delicious. It’s such a simple ingredient. With beef, you can throw it on a grill, put some salt on it—it’ll be pretty good. But chicken is different. It takes a certain amount of finesse to make chicken super tasty.”
No one knows this better than Harold Fields, who, by day, is a chef at SkyCity at the Space Needle, as well as a yakitori shokunin (a Japanese word meaning someone who dedicates their life to mastering a single craft) in training. His company, UMAMI KUSHI (206.265.1923; umamikushi.com) specializes in yakitori catering—including occasional pop-ups partnered with a brewery or Pioneer Square sake shop Sake Nomi, and also available for your backyard party.
Fields spent about a year in Japan learning the art of skewering chicken meat, skin, gizzards, you name it, seasoning it gently and then carefully waltzing it around the custom-made grills to cook it evenly and bring out the natural flavors. “With a lot of Japanese style of foods, the ease at which it’s executed is often mistaken for simplicity,” Fields says. “What drew me to yakitori is that it’s one of the oldest cooking styles known to man. It’s amazing how that has refined itself, and has kept refining itself. But it’s still meat grilled over natural charcoals over heat.” And when it comes to chicken, it’s all about capturing that flavor.