Ninety minutes and two cocktails into our wait for an indoor table at Parson’s Chicken & Fish, I turned to my friend on the patio. “I almost can’t believe we’re going to get a bill at the end of the night,” I said, feeling as if we were at a casual backyard barbecue, albeit one thrown by that pal with a killer booze collection and an eclectic assortment of friends.
Parson’s is the latest project from Land and Sea Dept. (the team behind Longman & Eagle), and the company knows how to make a space with personality. The patio held everyone from tattooed couples clutching cans of cheap beer to newborns and their moms and their moms. Everyone commingles on the sprawling outdoor lot, which sports light-wood picnic tables, striped umbrellas, strings of lights, spindly trees, and ping-pong tables. We ran into people we knew, but expected to run into more—the feeling on Parson’s patio is that everyone is just a friend of a friend you haven’t met yet.
I expected to see a grill and someone calling for burger requests, but instead, servers walked by with baskets of chicken and shrimp toast. We ogled these dishes from the cabana-style bar, but there was one upside to the wait: more time for cocktails. There is a reason the Negroni slushy gained instant fame: This is a damn fine Negroni, frozen or otherwise. Bartender Charlie Schott swaps out the usual Campari in favor of Luxardo Bitter, which is less viscous and sweet, making for a balanced cocktail that goes down easy. For the margarita, Parson's eschews salt for malic acid and sugar, resulting in a rim that tastes exactly like Sour Patch Kids and provides a tart complement to the smoky mezcal.
Like an outdoor party that disperses because of rain, the fun ends when your phone buzzes and your table is ready. The interior is tiny, with just a handful of barstools and a perplexing seating option—communal U-shaped booths. The host asked us to sit side-by-side, but a pair was vacating their barstools, and we immediately jumped on them. I occasionally turned to see couples sitting next to each other at otherwise empty tables, and several groups awkwardly wedged in together.
Chef Hunter Moore’s menu is divided into raw, fresh, and fried categories, and most dishes are $6–$8. While the chicken and fish would seem to be the highlights, they aren’t. Those would be the oysters, which are pristine and served with a lime wedge and citrus mignonette. And the lively chickpea salad, tossed with grilled octopus tentacles, fresh pea shoots, and crunchy pepitas. And the baccala (salt cod) fritters, an ideal salty bar snack.
We had the closest seats to the kitchen and saw all the baskets of fried chicken coming out—and there were many. But while the grilled chicken, marinated with citrus, rum and habanero, is lovely and smoky, the fried chicken merely passes muster. It has a light batter without much taste, and a splash of the housemade hot sauce is not an optional condiment. The coating on the fried fish—on this occasion, pollock—was dense, but the fish sings with a dash of chili-infused vinegar.
If there’s going to be a single dessert on the menu, it should be transformative. This was not the case with the confusing funnel cake, set atop lemon whip and sprinkled with green-peppercorn brittle. None of the flavors meshed, and while I love anything lemon, I had to ask the server what the cream even was.
This brings us back to an earlier point: Unless that barbecue-throwing pal is also a master chef, you’re probably not going to his party for the food. You’re going for an excuse to be outside and start drinking in the early afternoon. Likewise, you’re not going to Parson’s for the food. You’re going for the convivial atmosphere, the outrageously good cocktails and that patio. While I don’t know what will happen come winter, Parson’s patio is exactly where I want to spend all summer.