A Look at Half Bird Chicken & Beer With Chef Brian Howard
Healthier options aren’t always the easiest to find around lunchtime. “I’ve always been looking for something healthier to eat on this street during lunch,” Chef Brian Howard told us. “I always find myself going for pho or Chinese, eating just a side of vegetables or a bunch of chicken. There’s really nothing healthy unless I go outwards.” We were invited for a media tasting of the menu and a chat with Chef as he showed us around Half Bird Chicken & Beer.
Chicken itself might not be new, but the delivery and restaurant concept brings a refreshing option to Spring Mountain. “So, I always had a romance for roasted chickens. Because I spend time with Thomas Keller, cooking chickens every day, there’s something special about the simplicity of just a good roasted bird done right,” Chef explained. “That’s good comfort food, 100%. And there are hundreds, probably thousands of chicken joints.”
The restaurant had been announced before the COVID-19 lockdown. “As we came out of pandemic, I realized, everybody was waiting, and they lost to all these big national brands of hot chicken joints everywhere. But we aren’t focused on the hot chicken; we’re focused on its history,” Chef said. “We have quality ingredients, and I think this is the future of dining to some degree. You can get a cocktail; you can get a glass of wine; it happens in ten minutes. It’s a reasonable price point. I grew up in the Midwest, and my family was mostly surrounded by McDonald’s. I don’t eat that anymore, but my parents do, and they’re saying you can’t even go to McDonald’s for under $20 anymore, and you’re eating crap. I wanted to try to find something that was a level up for people.”
The quality of the food is first and foremost a priority for Half Bird Chicken & Beer. “Even if it is a fried chicken sandwich, right, you know that it’s pasture-raised, it’s all organic, and we have great vegetable offerings as well,” Chef told us. “I crave a fried chicken sandwich all the time, but I don’t want to go to McDonald’s. I know where that chicken comes from, and you don’t feel great after eating it. I’ve been testing these recipes for over a year now. And I don’t feel terrible after a week of eating it.”
Diners who love Sparrow + Wolf can expect to find inventive flavors here too. “We’re not reinventing the wheel, but we’re just turning the dial a little bit,” Chef explained. “We’re introducing people into more herbal flavors; we’re using things like scallion ginger sauce for the chicken that you would see in Hainanese chicken or chili garlic crunch that you would get in higher-end Japanese restaurants. The menu is very focused, but at the same time, we’re going to have a lot of seasonal stuff and secret menu item stuff.”
In addition to fun tastes, diners can enjoy various comfort food items like the rotisserie fries. “I grew up just outside of Detroit. Poutine is in Canada, but I think by the time we got to Detroit, they lost the cheese. And I grew up with gravy fries,” Chef reminisced. “It was always a comfort food for me, so we have gravy fries on the menu, but we’re going to do things like cheese fries with chili garlic crunch; things are fun. Maybe we find a tin of caviar on a Friday night, and we have ten servings, and the special is you come in and get nuggs with a split bottle of champagne and some caviar.”
Another must-try menu item is Brix’ Mac n Cheese. “My son is Brix. He’s a little chef in training himself, and when we went over the menu we were talking about, is there enough for kids? He said we don’t have any mac and cheese, and I was like, well, I don’t really want to do mac and cheese, but then I said all right, what would you do with the mac and cheese? And he said crispy spam, and I said, okay, I’m listening. So we started testing the recipes. We tried a bunch of different noodles. I let him choose what kind of pasta and what kind of cheeses. And then when we did the spam, he was like, no, no, no, it’s not done, and he ran over to the counter, and he grabbed a handful of furikake and put it over the top.” The end result is a delightfully rich radiatori pasta with cheese, crispy spam and a dusting of furikake on top.
Diners can enjoy the intricately designed (yet casual and fun) indoor dining space or the outdoor patio that has a chicken window entitled “Chicken After Dark.” “I want people to really feel good about what they’re eating, but know that they can come here and watch a game and have fun with your friends,” Chef said. Unlike many quick chicken joints, specialty beverage options are a focus as well. “We’re brewing our own beer here as well. We partnered with a local brewery, and we came up with the Cockfight Pilsner. We created a beer that paired well with the chicken. We’re using things like white pepper and coriander and lemon peel, all the things that you will find in our chicken are in the beer, but it’s done in a very tasteful way.”
Make sure to pay attention to all the fun little design details that you’ll see around the space, like the chicken feet table legs and the chicken feet lights on the ceiling. “We tried to nail those things, and if you watch some of the TVs, you’ll see some of our commercials roll through,” Chef explained, as he pointed out the little Easter eggs (no pun intended) hidden throughout the restaurant. “Our character made it into a lot of these paintings on the wall. My son made it into the wallpaper. Everything for me is in detail. You do it; you learn how to get better every time. From the food to the design to the operations.”