I’ve known the Sunday Dinner folks for about eight years now, ever since my friend Aamer invited me along to one of their first underground meals. It was billed as a “pre-colonial Mexican feast” or something like that. The jicama salad was insanely delicious, and I would have eaten anything covered with their mole, including the table and my shoe. Since then, they’ve been consistently providing some of the most satisfying and pleasing dining experiences I’ve had in the city, hands down – not only because their chow is amazing, but because, for whatever reason, they don’t seem to attract nearly as many food-douches as other events of their ilk. (I could spend an evening talking about their carrot cake fritter with cream cheese semifreddo ice cream, and the amazing people I got to share it with. GOOD GOD.)
One of the dishes they created – seasoned, crunchy fried chicken served with a knob of addictive honey butter to slather on the rich-paprika-imbued crust – proved so popular, they decided to build a whole restaurant around it.
And that restaurant – Honey Butter Fried Chicken – is finally opening this week.
The local press has been, understandably, freaking out, desiring a taste of what only a lucky few have been able to sample. But even beyond the food – and I’ll get to that – it was pretty moving to walk into their fully realized space earlier this week and smell their delicious future.
I sat down to a quarter dark (thigh and drumstick) with sides of pimento macaroni and cheese with garlicky bread crumbs and a kale and cabbage slaw with dried pomegranate and yogurt cumin dressing. The mac and cheese, shot through with tang and bits of pimento, was firm and full of flavor, and lacked the gumminess and excessive creaminess of other restaurants’ offerings, while the kale slaw bore the dressing lightly, allowing the heartiness of the greens to ride through. Perfect pairings for the chicken.
Oh Lord, the chicken.
You should take your knife and slather on the honey butter the minute the food runner brings your tray to your table, and sample the sides while the butter melts into the chicken – the chicken that will surprise you at first bite. The crust, shatteringly crisp, contrasts with the velvety, almost impossibly juicy bird beneath it, while the paprika-forward notes underlie the creamy sweetness of the butter.
They have several cocktails on offer, but even if you don’t have an Avondale Ginger Mule (molasses, ginger, gin, lime and mint), the delicious iced tea and rare fountain sodas (two varieties of Boylan’s AND Goose Island root beer AND GREEN RIVER) should slake your thirst nicely, whether inside or out on their vast patio.
And for God’s sake, get the chocolate toffee cookie.
Like I said, I’ve known Christine & Josh, and their business partners Jen & Chris for many years, and this isn’t really a review, so much as it’s the epilogue to a story I’ve followed ever since Christine sat down next to me a few years ago and mentioned the fact they were kicking around the idea of opening a restaurant. And we all knew it would be hard, and as delays stretched on, I wondered if I’d ever see their smiling faces behind a counter they could call their own.
Head on over to Elston, and smell their delicious future for yourself. You’ll walk out of there smiling, too.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken, 3361 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL. (773) 478-4000. No reservations, counter service.