Although it isn’t hard to find great fried chicken in Chicago (see here, here and here), we’re not going to say no to crispy birds served with a dollop of honey butter. Or fried chicken thigh sandwiches with candied jalapeño mayo. Or fried chicken salads with seasonal vegetables, pepitas and goddess dressing. Basically, we’ve been salivating over the opening of Honey Butter Fried Chicken for ages, and it's here—the restaurant opens on Saturday at 5pm. We checked in with chefs Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp, the founders of Honey Butter Fried Chicken as well as Sunday Dinner Club, about what to expect.
Cikowski and Kulp have been working together ever since they met in culinary school and recognized that they had the same sensibility about food. Nine years ago, they launched Sunday Dinner Club, which is a referral-only (you have to know someone who’s been to a dinner before) private dinner series they’ll continue, even after Honey Butter opens.
“One of our prime Sunday Dinner Club menu items was fried chicken, so we went from there,” Kulp says. “We’re definitely continuing Sunday Dinner Club in full. It’s really important to us, since we love that aspect of our lives and love what Sunday Dinner Club has become, a community of diners. It was never open to the public, but by word of mouth and it was a connected community of people.”
Cikowski says that the food served at Honey Butter will be familiar to Sunday Dinner Club fans.
“We’ve been doing fried chicken dinners for years and serving them with super-seasonal fresh vegetable sides and we’re going to do the same thing at Honey Butter, except they’ll be in side bowls as opposed to a composed plate,” she says.
Honey Butter is a counter-service venue, and people can either stay in the restaurant to eat or take it to go. So what will you be eating?
“We love using ingredients from different farmers we’ve been working with and made friends with,” Kulp says. “We cook seasonally. The fried chicken comes with an awesome little corn muffin and honey butter, every order does. And there’s a fried chicken sandwich that has candied jalapeno mayo and slaw.”
Another entrée is the market salad, which is a helping of local greens, seasonal vegetables and pepitas. You can also add on fried chicken, and it’s served with a corn muffin and goddess dressing, an herby yogurt.
As for sides, Kulp says that they’re going to celebrate vegetables.
“That doesn’t mean we won’t add bacon sometimes, but we want to show off the beautiful vegetables,” he says. “We’ll have roasted corn and cucumber salad with radish and dill, heirloom tomatoes in the summer served with summer beans. We make a smoky tomato sauce in the summer that we stew green beans or zucchini or whatever else is in season in. And we’ll do traditional mac and cheese, but with pimento and sharp cheddar from Brunkow and garlic breadcrumbs on top. We do things that are familiar but have an exciting side and celebrate the season.”
Besides vegetables from farmers markets and cheeses from Brunkow, Honey Butter features other local products, like cornmeal from Wisconsin’s Three Sisters Farm and Gentle Breeze honey from Wisconsin.
“One of the best tasting days we had here was when we tried every Co-Op hot sauce,” Kulp says. “We’re using their rum barrel hot sauce and it’ll be on the tables to add heat to chicken or mac and cheese.”
The drink program also embraces local beer and spirits and includes five of what Kulp calls “simple, front porch cocktails.”
“The cocktails won’t have a lot of tinctures or show involved,” he says. “We’ll have a small iced tea program with tea from Rare Tea Cellar, and we’ll turn that into cocktail, Damn Good Sweet Tea, with tea, honey gastrique and white whiskey. We’ll also have Death’s Door spirits.”
Cikowski handles desserts, and she’s offering two, chocolate toffee cookies and dump cake.
“The cookies are like the homemade chocolate chip cookies you might have had a kid, but there’s an upgrade—we’re making our own toffee, crunching it up and putting in pieces of that and cacao nibs for a nice bitter crunch,” she says. “And dump cake is like cobbler, but messy cobbler. You take fruit and top it with butter and cake mix. But we use market fruits and make our own cake mix.”
Honey Butter Fried Chicken opens September 14 at 3361 N Elston Ave. It'll be open Mon, Wed, Thu and Sun 5-10pm and Fri, Sat 5-11pm. The restaurant is closed Tue. Lunch will be added in the coming weeks.