It's hard to miss Bird N Hand with its giant bird claw sign hanging above the door, but in all other respects the space has managed, for the most part, to fly under the radar. This has happened for a couple reasons. The fried chicken spot, which opened in May, sits a couple doors down from Plan Check, a restaurant that has built a solid reputation on excellent fried chicken. Bird N Hand is, for now, open a paltry five to six hours in the evening—a small window of time for curious diners to pop in and try the food. And those who knew the space as Chameau Delibar, a popular Moroccan deli run by owner and chef Adel Chagar, may be disappointed to discover that Bird N Hand is nothing like its former occupant. But Chagar, who shuttered Chameau to renovate the space and re-open it as the fried chicken joint, has remained loyal to his customers in the most important way: He is still serving fantastic, affordable food without pretense.
The menu is small and mostly consists of free range chicken offered in a variety of scenarios: wings and thighs, in buckets or on waffles, sandwiched between buns. The harissa wings arrive in a basket flanked by carrot and celery stricks and a small cup of buttermilk sauce; the first thing you'll notice about Chagar's birds—no matter what form they take—is that the meat is incredibly tender and moist. As wings, they are effortlessly pulled from the bone, while the harissa sauce, thought not as spicy as I would have liked, evenly coats the bird without making it so sticky that you can't maintain a firm grasp. There is the plate of four waffle triangles buried under a fried chicken piece so large that my friend gasped, "What part of the bird did that come from?" I have never really taken to chicken and waffles—one part of the equation always seems too dry—but Chagar's dish is done the way it should be: the chicken's mildly spiced, crispy skin is enhanced by a dab of sweet maple butter and a forkful of golden, lightly toasted waffle.
You could order your tall bun sandwich with buffalo or BBQ sauce, or even as a veggie bun (the chicken is swapped out for fried cauliflower), but the best option is the original tall bun, a mound of fried chicken, hashbrowns, slaw and pickled onions piled high between two buttermilk biscuits that would make my Southern grandma proud. This is truly the best dish served at Bird N Hand, and at $9.50 for two impressively large sandwiches, it's a downright steal. I vowed to eat half and take the rest home, but despite everything else that was spread across our table, I couldn't leave a bite on the plate.
Skip the sides—the Tator-Tots are just OK and the mac and cheese is too oily—and instead save room for dessert, of which there is only one dish: the croissant crack pudding. As juvenile as the name may be, that first bite was a revelatory, "Why don't more restaurants serve this?" All of the comfort food factors are here, with layers of hot, doughy croissant pieces softened by condensed milk and bound by chocolate chips. It's something you might have come up with in your own kitchen; the pudding, in fact, comes in a tinfoil bowl that screams potluck. But who cares? If you want dressed-up dishes served in mini cast iron pans, go to Plan Check. But for no-frills, homecooked Southern fare on plates you can toss in the garbage once you've scraped them clean? Look for the bird claw.
What to Eat: The harissa wings ($7.50). The chicken & waffle ($9). The tall bun ($9.50). The croissant crack pudding ($5.50).
What to Drink: A rudimentary bar sits against one wall, where select beer (PBR is a popular choice here) and wine lines the shelf. A cold beer is an excellent friend to fried chicken, so why not get a bottle?
Where to Sit: The only seating choices you have to make depend on whether you want to watch the game (a handful of TVs hand in various corners of the room) or the people passing by on Fairfax. Other than that, sit wherever you want.
Conversation Piece: A group of twenty-something women dressed to the nines stopped suddenly as they passed by. "Oh my God, it's him," said one, before rushing into Bird N Hand with her friend and bombarding Chagar with questions. "You've got fans," I said, as he came over with our crack pudding. He smiled, sheepishly shrugged and replied, "They loved Chameau."