Pickles and ice cream were the least of it. When I was pregnant a decade ago, I wanted almond butter, bean sprouts, raw onions, rice pudding and, most urgently, fried chicken with honey, quite a common Southern touch. Boy, do I wish Yardbird had been open. Yardbird Southern Table & Bar has perfected the art of crispy, golden, fried chicken. The recipe, says chef Jeff McInnis, is from business partner John Kunkel’s grandmother Llewellyn.
And, yes, it is secret. What we do know is that from brining to table, it takes 27 hours. And it’s worth every minute. “We did months of testing and wound up doing it old school, using techniques from the 1800s,” says McGinnis, the telegenic Top Chef contender who opened hip Gigi in Midtown. Yardbird’s signature dish is served with a puffy triangle of Cheddar- and herb-flecked waffle along with a refreshing minty watermelon salad and some of the sweetest honey around.
Ambience: With its white brick walls, gray barn-wood slats and funky chalkboard signs, Yardbird has been made to look at once down-home and hipster. Yes, it’s a little staged (thanks to brand designer Chris Romero), but it works to create a cool, comfortable vibe that’s more Carroll Gardens than Cracker Barrel. The young staffers, seemingly culled from the Beach’s best spots, are uniformly friendly and enthusiastic. The place has been packed since opening in early October, and they handle the throngs with grace and charm.
- Meatloaf – a layered cube of braised short rib as rich as Mississippi Delta soil with a sweet and tangy “ketchup” glaze and a black-as-molasses smoked onion-bourbon jus
- A dense mound of mashed potatoes
- Cast-iron chicken – a deeply browned, pan-roasted half bird served with sautéed artichoke and butter beans
- An exceptional shrimp and grits that gets extra depth from chunks of smoky Virginia ham
- Excellent tea-marinated ribs
- A skillet of macaroni and cheese with toasty bread-crumb coating
- Butter lettuce salad made with tender Swank Farms leaves and smoked pecans
- A farm casserole with meaty mushrooms and potatoes in a creamy cheese sauce
- Wide-mouth mason jars for Abita root beer on tap
- Sweet tea
- Pucker-inducing fresh lemonade
- The very best bourbon cocktails this side of the Mason-Dixon line
- A respectable lineup of artisanal beers from Steelhead Extra Stout to Dale’s Pale Ale
- Creamy-on-top milk with a batch of warm cookies as big as summer sunflowers
- House-churned ice cream in flavors like sweet corn and pig candy (sugared bacon)
- A satisfying slab of moist red velvet cake
- The inspired, bluesy soundtrack with the likes of B.B. King, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Carey Bell