We hold these truths to be self-evident: the highest ideal of chicken’s comestible form is to be battered and deep fried, everything is better with extra pickles, and if Chef Viet Pham is in charge of the menu we. are. eating there. Happy as clams. Excitable as a caps-lock rant. As giddy as exclamation points, plural. No need to stick with one satisfied simile…at Pretty Bird you’re going to end up using them all.
After all, this is the chef who thumped Bobby Flay not once, but twice.
The first bout went down on Iron Chef America when Chef Pham was co-owner (with chef Bowman Brown) of the much-missed fine dining darling of our salty city, Forage. For round two last summer, Pham spanked the celebrity chef on an episode of Beat Bobby Flay with the very same hot chicken sandwich you can hold in your own happy paws at Pretty Bird on Regent Street. And with one bite of Pham’s signature creation you’ll suss out what’s all the fuss about really great Nashville-style hot chicken: it’s an ideal combo of spice, salt, sweet, sass and a distinctive crunch that gives way to arguably some of the most tender and juicy yard bird found in the Beehive.
Though the loaded sandwich is as big as your face and by far the most popular item on Pretty Bird’s limited menu (they sell between 500-600 sandos a day), Pham’s a fan of the quarter bird option if he’s sampling the goods himself. After the chicken gets a generous dry rub to lock in flavor and a subtly spiced flour dredge, each batch gets a solid dunk in the pressure fryer followed by the seasoning scenario of your choice: mild, medium, hot, or endorphin-inducing hot “behind” (a cheeky nod to restaurant line cook lingo). How to choose your own level of heat? “Most people order it medium,” says Pham, which—truth to tell—would probably translate as mild in Tennessee. We happily vacillate between hot and hot “behind,” depending on our mood and the amount of time we’ve dedicated for mascara recovery after lunch. And don’t forget to grab extra napkins, as you’ll want to keep your fiery fingertips away from anything important for a while.
Pham has the culinary cred and could easily have the financial backing to open a restaurant with the highest echelons of the white tablecloth set in mind. However, Pretty Bird is indicative of both his gracious lack of pretension and professional flexibility, evidenced by the very small (but mighty) menu and barely 500-square-foot space. There’s just enough room for some counter seating (plus there’s a nice patio for al fresco noshing on sunny days, best accompanied by a cold can of PBR) and the bustling open kitchen. And we’ve seen Barbie Dream Houses with more storage space. Hence, all the chicken is delivered and prepared fresh twice daily, with a break between lunch and dinner service so the crew can bring in and prep enough for the evening crowd. They’ve sold out almost every day since opening in February, 2018.
As one of the most culturally self-aware chefs we’ve had the pleasure to know, Pham credits the traditions of African American (and mostly female) Tennessee cooks who developed and honed the hot chicken craft long before it became an all-about-the-‘gram phenomenon. That’s not to say he hasn’t taken the trend and run with it in reliably original Pham fashion. Taking the basic concept on an occasional spin of the global flavor wheel, you’ll see Pham letting his considerable imagination fly with specials pulling inspiration from the spice markets of South America, Africa, and Asia. “Making great Nashville-style chicken takes a lot more than just making it really, really hot,” says Pham of his approach to balance and flavor development. He selects each ingredient to add depth and complexity whether it’s ordered mild or hot “behind”, with addictive Pretty Bird sauce, crunchy hot pink cider slaw and a buttered bun bringing the whole fucking delicious package together. To which we COLLECTIVELY praise:
Hot damn, Pham. You've done it again.
Pretty Bird | 146 S. Regent St. | prettybirdchicken.com