Where does one go after opening several successful restaurants, some with sibling locations and all enjoying loyal fan bases? If you're owner Brandon Katz, you find a niche in this food-loving town of ours, one that has yet to be fully realized, along with a craving from anxious diners. In the current realm of plated mania we find ourselves embracing the southern approach to satisfying said hankerings with the combo of fried chicken and fluffy waffles. This is a match made in hangover heaven, somewhere in the decadent ether that will leave you wondering just how in the heck these two elements can work so wonderfully together.
In the history of soul food, the freakish mash-up of battered chicken dipped in hot oil sitting on the grid of a bumpy griddle cake is dubious at best. Yet somehow...there it is! Now that the Tucson barbeque prospect is looking spiffier, what we need is some down-home delights delivered with a touch of panache and imagination on the corner of Oracle and Ina.
You might expect a facet of chi-chi when you make your way in; dishes foaming with presentation over execution, due to the style and flow of the layout. But know this: Bird serves shrimp and grits and one of the best burgers you will experience within the city limits. Pretention is thrown out, immediately, once you skim the menu and ready yourself for a new level of familiar fare gone the ways of chef orchestration.
"The name is pretty straight forward because the fried chicken is a big seller," says Katz while sitting at the ornate bar, easily one of the largest in the Casas Adobes neighborhood. "Our chef, Daniel Thomas, really captures the essence of southern cooking, which, to me, is comforting and loving. We want to put love on a plate."
When you see a wedge salad as an option, you may think to yourself that the cooks are just lazy and the owner has no backbone. Iceberg lettuce smothered in creamy glop and stale bacon nibs? Lame. The Wedge ($10) at Bird is completely homespun, as it is aimed for the palate of a patron expecting haute cuisine. The smooth sharpness from the buttermilk blue cheese dressing, along with the firm texture of perfectly boiled egg, plays kindly among the bacon, onion, ripe tomatoes and crunch from the lettuce. I will say the Roasted Cauliflower "Salad" ($13) was one of the best things I have eaten in a long time. The cauliflower is topped with a carrot, raisin and kale slaw, nestled on an eggplant nage (essentially a broth that has been reduced and thickened) then finished with shaved Parmesan, resulting in an entrée both meat and veggie eaters can agree upon. Unreal. You wouldn't think all those components would come together so nicely, but they do in a very harmonious manner.
If you just want a nibble as you sip a house cocktail—such as the Tucson Julip ($11), which is a fervent blend of two Del Bac whiskeys, tinctures of serrano and creosote along with sage honey, or the spritely titled Cuff & Buttons ($10), a boozy brew of a house bourbon, sloe gin and amaretto among lemon and orange juice—a wise choice might be the Fried Green Tomato plate ($10). Chicken is one thing, but what sets apart a real southern spot from a phony is the use of fried green tomatoes. Here it is topped with crispy pork skin, pimento cheese and pickled onions, which makes for rounded flavor with each bite. I also recommend the Deviled Eggs ($7), another fun factor in this somewhat posh prefab; each one is equipped with bacon, pickled mustard seeds and micro celery leaves—a simple throwback moment in a comfortably hip, forward motion estate.
On a lone Highway 10 stretch in Louisiana, there was a little grub shed that was serving, at the time for me, an unfamiliar dish called "hot chicken." They also boasted cold beer, and since we were tired and famished, we had to pull over and refuel. The adjective "hot" did not do what they did with chicken any justice. Our lips burned for the duration to New Orleans and many rest stops had to be facilitated. Okay, Bird will not do such damage but the heat in their Hot Chicken Sandwich ($13) did pay homage to the style and flavor of that roadside snack shanty. That and the 24-hour brined Fried Chicken ($19) accompanied by, yes, a crisp yet delicate waffle (a ballad of southern grace and total repletion), was a jaunty ovation to creaky eateries as old as the purchase of original territories. Toss in a side of Collard Greens ($6), Creamed Grits ($6) and Hushpuppies ($7) and your Tucson trek through the neighboring Gulf States has come full circle.