If you were hip to the chicken sandwich, that beloved treat of the common man and guilty pleasure of the passé intellectual, before the lines formed outside Popeyes and before Sixth Avenue boasted no fewer than three Chick-Fil-As, good on you. But alas, your secret knowledge of backroads is secret no more. A chicken sandwich has come to a hipster bar near you.
That bar would be the Starliner (motto: “If you’re lucky enough to be here, you’re lucky enough”), a post-gentrification, post-dive project that fittingly opened in 2016 and is notably shaped like a boat–it had taken the place of a shuttered tae kwon do studio. Situated on busy Myrtle Avenue, the Starliner has been a fine place to find the rare sub-ten dollar cocktail and to admire the diligent collection of graffiti-style bathroom art. Following a trial run last week, the place has become home to Adam Volk’s Redcrest Fried Chicken, a spot transplanted from Philly’s hipstery East Passyunk and whose menu Philadelphia Magazine hailed as circling “eternally around the bird, the skin, the spice and the process.”
It is worth noting that Myrtle Avenue is not bereft of fried chicken spots. An aforementioned Popeyes sits literally across the street and an enormous KFC logo notably greets travelers arriving via the Myrtle-Wycoff station. Elsewhere, you will find endless little gorgeous little greasy corners or, if you dig deep, somewhere like the more-recent Garlic to the Chicken, full of pleasant, crispy surprises. But at none of these places are you likely to hear a low-key forgotten banger by the Growlers blasting on four speakers on its perfectly-polished and empty-on-a-Monday-night dance floor. Unlike your favorite bodega or community space, neither Popeyes nor the vitally nearby White Castle are likely threatened by newcomers like Mr. Volk. That they can so easily occupy the same geographic space is a reminder that capitalism yearns only to have something for everybody.
A friendly-faced and bearded young man sits in the Starliner’s backyard, where now a neon ribbon above him reads, plainly: Fried Chicken. You will have to order at the bar he will remind you in his crisp white jacket; the menu is a lovingly template-made black and white DIY collection of sandwiches, sauces, tenders, something called The Big Salad, boneless popcorn thighs. A vegan patty is available, also. Most of these cost about ten dollars or so.
While Mr. Volk borrows amply from the palette of southern tradition (a stew-y take on collard greens can be ordered as a side), he does not have the quite the razorsharp minimal confidence of this past summer’s chicken sandwich. The soft potato bun brings to mind Popeyes’ brioche but there’s lots of other stuff on it too for some reason. In addition to the “Redcrest,” there are five other varieties are offered, which have names like “South X Southwest” and “the Drive-Thru.” These names are fun but betray a subtle desperation; all buzz, no crunch. All thigh meat that will be greasy and will demand work, multiple extended bites. They don’t have the sturdy feel of the bag you bring to feed a late-night party and rip apart with confident joy.
But the deliberateness is the point, this is the kind of cooking that comes studied for many years and illustrated in coffee table cookbooks. Take the biscuits, which are not the round pasty buttons familiar from cardboard to-go boxes but, instead, come in peculiar brown-ish pillows. They taste thick and incredibly baked. Someone clearly thought about this a good deal. Where Volk’s style finds remarkable success are the fried tenders, which come loudly powered and crumble remarkably at the bite. This is chicken that has been made well, as well as the imagination can imagine. In such a state, it’s as good as it gets.
Cover photo courtesy of Redcrest.