Inside Fatbird Southern Kitchen and Bar is a large wooden wall graffitied with the image of an old-timey bluesman picking a guitar on his porch. Sporting a suit and tie, with a gaze hidden behind sunglasses, he looks intense, serious and focused.
It’s quite a discordant image for this corner spot that also has a sign that reads, Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit. The first stand-alone restaurant in NYC from former Iron Chef Cat Cora takes a frisky approach to Southern soul, injecting it with a hefty dose of down-home kitsch. Take the 12-page drink menu, strewn with overpriced mason-jar cocktails (courtesy of the Sugar Factory team) like Honky Tonk Hippie Juice ($17), “a boot, scoot and fruity concoction” of vodka, rum and strawberry lemonade. Sure, it tastes like Gatorade, but nobody whiling away a warm summer night on the placid street-front patio seemed to mind.
Fatbird’s Southern staples—a nod to Cora’s Mississippi roots—fall into three categories: decent, entirely unmemorable and frustratingly meh. The good news first: Family-recipe biscuits ($3.50) are fluffy and crisp; brussels sprouts ($8) are rife with ham and bright with lemon and capers; and perfectly al dente mac and cheese ($13) features gooey cheddar and Gruyère, crisp crumbs and a welcome trace of fresh garlic. Spicy shrimp ($24) and hunks of bacon layered over chalky grits provide safe but less inspiring ground, as does a nicely charred burger ($21).
Although none of the dishes crash and burn, too many of them are vexingly unsatisfying. Take the signature fried chicken ($28), a recipe passed down from Cora’s grandmother, which is sunk by its soggy, grease-soaked skin, or a tender rack of baby backs ($24/$39) with no pretense of char or smoke, and a slick of sugary sauce that, had it not come out of an Iron Chef’s kitchen, you might suspect came from a bottle.
So in a restaurant peddling food you won’t particularly remember, what’s the one morsel you can’t possibly forget? A lackluster, Instagram-baiting vanilla milk shake ($18) crowned with whipped cream, a crisp maple doughnut, and two pieces of fried chicken. It’s all very pretty, but we can’t help but identify with our old-timey blues friend who isn’t having much fun, either.
BY: DANIEL MEYER