First Look: Chick-a-Biddy
The new Atlantic Station chicken joint could use some TLCWednesday August 14, 2013 04:00 am EDT
Shaun Doty and Lance Gummere's new joint, Chick-a-Biddy, sits across from the movie theater at Atlantic Station. If I had to pitch it to a movie studio, I'd call it "the place where Bantam + Biddy meets Yeah! Burger meets Flirting with Disaster." In other words, it's a chicken-centric, quality-ingredients-driven, fast-casual restaurant, both fun and in frequent proximity to calamitous results.
When I say "fun," I mean the colorful, contemporary, diner-esque décor, the weekend DJs pumping out dance music, and the sugary-sweet frozen ginger juleps. And when I say "proximity to calamitous results," I'm not referring to nearby Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro or to the general state of affairs of Atlantic Station, but rather to the cooking and service thus far at Chick-a-Biddy itself. It's early yet, but Doty and team clearly have some work to do to whip this flick into a long-term success.
Chick-a-Biddy's vibe is reminiscent of Doty's former venture, Yeah! Burger — full of bright colors and cartoonish graphics and enough warm wood to make you realize this is not the Cartoon Network headquarters. (That's less than a mile away, in case you were wondering.)
The menu clearly states its focus on "farm fresh chicken" up front — no factory-farmed birds here. But then, almost as quickly, Chick-a-biddy veers off into a random selection of falafels and fish tacos and crab cakes and plaintain chips. The unifying factor seems less about any particular cuisine or flavor profile, and more about the avoidance of any form of four-legged animal flesh.
The fried chicken dishes easily place Chick-a-Biddy among the better dining destinations in Atlantic Station — whether it's fried wings doused in a green Tabasco sauce and served with a refreshingly thin buttermilk ranch, or plates of hot fried chicken tossed in a red Tabasco-based sauce with hints of lime. Sure, the crunchy, gluten-free batter (made with rice flour) tends be a bit clumpy, but the meat inside is consistently juicy and tender. The piri piri-spiced grilled chicken, at least when executed correctly, also holds promise. As an order of grilled wings it came with pleasantly charred skin and, as a skewer on top of a grilled vegetable and arugula salad, the chicken was juicy and delicious.
To accompany those wings and things, the beverage menu offers a nice array of local craft beers, affordable wines by the glass, and some interesting-sounding cocktails. My bourbon Pimm's cocktail was a perfect mix of intrigue and refreshment — the combo of Pimm's and whiskey is seldom seen — served up on the patio on a warm summer evening.
Still, Chick-a-Biddy's emerging plotline simply begs too many questions. Why is the ginger julep so achingly (and I mean achingly) sweet? Why charge $5 for a watery cantaloupe agua fresca? Why is the grilled chicken sometimes so painfully dry? Why is the blackened skin sometimes so flabby and lacking any discernible spice at all, despite its tempting color? Why are the buns for the chicken sandwich charred to the point of carbonization?
For a spin-off restaurant by some serious pros, the errors in judgment or simple execution seem far too frequent. A bowl of creamy, well-spiced pimento cheese comes with celery and, for some reason, limp, cold grilled asparagus. Veggie sides with titillating combinations — broccoli jalapeño slaw or sunflower sprouts with Asian pear — tend to fall flat, lacking the seasoning or spice necessary to make the pairings pop. And then there's the flat-out fail of a dense and dry falafel wrap. It tasted anything but fresh.
The service, too, can be vexing. Why have a hostess leave her station to clear tables outside on the patio, then spend a minute or two fixing a wobbly table, only to return to a long line of perplexed people back at her original post? Yes, many of the staff are green. But some of them seem programmed to say no rather than yes. "No, you can't do half regular, half hot." "No, that half chicken plate looks like half a chicken to me, not a quarter chicken." (It was not half a chicken.)
To be fair, the service hasn't been all bad. When I sat at the counter facing the kitchen, our server offered a taste of one of the frozen cocktails with a friendly smile and exactly the kind of attitude one would expect from a place like this — a place that is clearly meant to shake up the chain restaurant scene at Atlantic Station. She gave me hope that Chick-a-Biddy could turn out to be the kind of place I'd happily visit over and over again.
It's worth stating that I wasn't so enamored with sister restaurant Bantam + Biddy at the outset, either. The service could fall to spectacular lows, the food often seemed to lack focus, and the devotion to all things local seemed undermined by the presence of Frank's hot sauce on every table and New York-based McClure's Bloody Mary mix behind the bar (Chick-a-Biddy uses Frank's and McClure's as well). Bantam + Biddy has fixed the service issues as far as I can tell, and the food has come a long way. In bad-chicken-pun language, what was once a nervous hen of a restaurant has become a strutting rooster. And I have no doubt that Chick-a-Biddy can do the same. Even Flirting with Disaster had a happy ending, in a fun and calamitous kind of way.