Byrd & Barrel
A few years back, St. Louis got hooked on the idea of frozen yogurt. Everywhere you turned, a new place popped up. Yogoluv, FroYo, Chill, Red Mango dotted the city (or mostly the 'burbs, I guess) like pimples on a teenagers face. Two years later, barely any are open. Shockingly, people didn't want to eat a delicious frozen treat the 6 months of the year that it's goddamn freezing here. As the yogurt trend melted away, something new emerged: good quality BBQ shops. Tired of the garbage that is Bandana's, St. Louisans flocked to Pappy's and Sugarfire, both of which have expanded rapidly and successfully. It came as a shock to no one (except for vegans probably, but no one cares what they think) that people loved to be able to eat fantastic BBQ whenever and wherever they were.
It's like everyone collectively acknowledged that we, as Midwesterners, love huge portions of food with buckets of flavor. BBQ was the gateway drug—the next wave is fried chicken.
It seems that if there's one thing Josh Galliano taught his young Padawans at Monarch, The Libertine, and An American Place, it's how to expertly pull off fried chicken. His proteges include Rick Lewis, the man behind Southern, and Bob Brazell, the dude who decided to refurbish an old Popeye's and make it Byrd & Barrel.
Both Lewis and Brazell opened restaurants this summer, both with a focus on god's greatest gift to mankind, fried chicken. Southern's focus is on Nashville Hot Chicken and comfort food, while Byrd aims to use gourmet fried chicken in a whole mess of ways.
Months ago, Brazell (whose team includes former Gallianites Tommy "Salami" Andrews, Will "Tugboat" Volny, and Ryan "Ryan" Mcdonald) told me some of the ideas he was kicking around for his menu. The one that got my engine revved up right away was the South Side Poutine. B&B substitutes the fries typically seen in the dish with big tater tot balls, tasting like Waffle House hashbrowns that have been clumped together and deep fried. The balls are topped with tender smoked chicken, cheese curds, chicken (or mushroom) gravy, and chives.
If I ever make a "Top 10 Drunk Foods" for St. Louis, this will be at the top. Cheese, gravy, fried, meat. Winner.
It was a nice surprise to see that their chicken skins aren't done the way every restaurant seems to do it—that is to say, copy what Sean Brock's Husk has done and just dust them in a spicy southern seasoning. Instead, these skins are drizzled with a General Tso's style sauce, giving them a little tang and sweetness. Not eating this entire plate of skins took a LOT of mental fortitude.
Feeling guilty about our first two dishes, I had to throw some vegetables in. The roasted cauliflower came with toasted cashews, grana padano cheese, salsa verde, and a slightly spicy peppadew aioli. The plating style keeps with the other dishes of being sort of a controlled mess on the plate, but the flavors are clearly from experienced chefs. I would get these again, without a doubt.
If you can emphatically say that you love chicken livers, then you must get the banh mi. This is the most chicken livery thing I've eaten in St. Louis, and that includes all the chicken liver mousses. Crispy fried livers are tucked into french bread and topped with pickled carrots, cilantro, jalapeños, cucumbers, and aioli, like every other banh mi.
The one thing you must get your first time at B&B is the Mother Clucker: a giant, juicy, wonderful, fried chicken thigh topped with caramelized onions, a sweet and spicy pepper jelly, and provel cheese whiz (just typing that makes me aroused). To finish, Red Hot Riplets are delicately placed on top.
I've already vowed to name my first born (male or female) Bob Brazell Pernikoff because of this sandwich.
I knew going into the meal that I'd love Bob's thighs, but I had no idea how much I'd love his pickle.
The Tickled Pickle is probably the most ridiculous dish I've seen in St. Louis. A hot dog is stuffed in a pickle, then breaded and fried like a corn dog. It's preposterous, but it works so well. Dipped in the housemade sriracha grain mustard, it's perfect. I think for that drunk meal I mentioned before, the poutine would be my starter and this would be my entree.
I was worried about having St. Louis having two new fried chicken places opening at the same time, but now I'm wishing there were more Southerns and Byrd & Barrels all over. One day...