Digging into the cluckin' awesome world of our favorite fried food.
You may have heard a thing or two about Roots drummer Questlove's fried chicken, from its appearance on Jimmy Fallon* against David Chang's version or its subsequent limited stage time at Momofuku. We've tasted it at events before and count ourselves fans, and now it has a permanent home in Chelsea Market at Hybird, Quest's fried chicken / dumpling / cupcake / slushy shack.
* The video is linked, not embedded, thanks to the good copyright folks who've pulled the clip from YouTube and Hulu, leaving it only available on New York magazine's non-embeddable video player. Yay free internet!
Wait what? Yup, there's a lot going on here, and that's before you read the menu to find items like tom yum and red curry-carrot cupcakes or truffled egg dumplings.
So how is it all? We braved the the market's tourist-clotted halls to find out.
The short order: It's good fried chicken! The cooks brine chicken drumsticks (exclusively, no other parts), give them a flour dredge, then a buttermilk dip, then another dredge in seasoned flour. The chicken isn't fried to order but doesn't linger in a warmer for too long either. The crust is thick, flaky, and well seasoned, though it doesn't adhere too well to the skin; the meat inside is quite tender, plump, and mild but faintly chicken-y. You know Popeye's? Think Popeye's. We're fans of both.
Until you get to the pricing. You see, a single drumstick at Hybird runs you $4. Buy two and it's $7.50. Four is $14.50, and so on, all the way to 12 pieces for a whopping $41. How does that work out to price per piece? See below.
Each additional drumstick lowers your price per piece, but the major value drop-off stops after two. This is good fried chicken, but not $41 a bucket fried chicken. A good snack, but a pricey meal.
Then there are dumplings ($7 for 5), the logical side order to any fried chicken feast. Some are steamed, some are fried; they come in variations like crab rangoon, curry chicken, cheese and Swiss chard, and truffled egg. The three we sampled we alright in a midtown Chinese buffet kind of way: slightly stale but decent skins with boldly flavored fillings. Though like the fried chicken, the dumplings are pricey for the payload.
Hybird's cupcakes ($3.50) are similarly gonzo. Witness the Miso Ho-Ney, a corn-flavored cake with miso-honey buttercream, or the Tom Yum with coconut, lemongrass, and makrud lime. They're bold flavors, in theory anyway, but they don't deliver on the palate. We found the cakes a little too dry and the frostings well-constructed but confused. That said, the corn-honey and double chocolate (excuse me, 'Sexual Chocolate') cupcakes had their fans, and there are far worse cupcakes in the city.
My favorite item, the one I'd go back for right now, is a watermelon-jalapeno slushy (sorry, 'Loveslush,' $4.50) that, on this glib, trend-chasing gang bang of a menu, is just refreshingly, honestly delicious. It's thick and pulpy with a sneaky, lasting heat that sends you right back for another sip—and generously portioned, a good pint of slushy. This and a fat drumstick would do me quite well for under ten bucks.
I'm curious to see if Hybird has long-term Chelsea Market potential. Besides the prominent question marks, a hobo signal in the night for Quest lovers, Quest's visual ties to the stall aren't too obvious. The cashiers and cooks aren't too vocal about him either.
But of course Questlove isn't what most prospective Hybird customers care about (the place is also the work of Stephen Starr's Philadelphia-based restaurant group, who do the real heavy lifting). These days Chelsea Market is mostly the domain of out of towners and professionals in the upstairs offices. Their walking speeds and demeanors may be diametrically opposed, but their food goals are the same: something tasty and interesting that doesn't break the bank. We'll see how well Hybird serves them.
For a play by play of everything we tried, check out the slideshow.