The goods: Former Top Chef contestant and Gigi chef Jeff McInnis resurfaces at Yardbird, a polished Southern tavern one block from Lincoln Road.
Ambience: The cavernous space has seating for about 200, including a few patio tables on the corner of Lenox Ave. The interior has a rustic, masculine air with wood floors and exposed wood beams, painted brick walls and a steel bar. Chalk drawings of roosters and pigs share space with cheeky quotes like “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who love fried chicken and communists.” Little details – water served in recycled glass milk bottles, vintage bicycle seats above the bathroom doors, jars of homemade pickling lining the back walls — add to the Early American sensibility.
The grub: Down-home, belly-filling Southern farmhouse cooking from an Alabama-raised chef. Everything is made in-house, from the jams to the saltine crackers and the lard used in the pie crusts. Prices are reasonable and portions are large: starters are $6-$14, mains (called “big shares”) are $17-$36 and sides are $5-$8.
The bar has a wide selection of bourbons and an ambitious cocktail menu including the Southern Peach made with peach preserves, Aperol and Ridgemont 1972 bourbon. The “Yard Sale” section of the wine list features $10 bottles.
Dinner starts with a small metal pot of boiled peanuts, a fitting segue to starters like the pimiento cheese spread served in a glass jar with homemade saltines on the side. Other rib-sticking starters include a fried green tomato BLT and “Mama’s Chicken Biscuits,” mini-sandwiches of fried Bell and Evans chicken slathered with pepper jelly. “Southern Edamame” are steamed peas in their pods dressed with seat salt and chili butter. Adventurous eaters will enjoy the Brunswick stew made with alligator meat, rabbit and pickled okra. Hearty mains include the shareable platter of buttermilk-battered Llewellyn’s Fried Chicken served with chili-dusted watermelon, a savory waffle and a bracing honey-Tabasco sauce. Sides arrive in cast iron pans and include a gooey mac and cheese, Brussels sprouts sautéed with green apple and grilled corn on the cob.
Desserts keep the old-fashioned vibe going with red velvet layer cake, a glass pot of chocolate custard topped with a homemade marshmallow and a comforting plate of cookies and milk.
Verdict: A modern tavern of fried chicken, waffles and bourbon cocktails.