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TASTE IT: Crack Shack

Eating our way through the menu at S.D.'s new fried chicken joint


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Photo by Paul Body

Fried chicken shouldn’t work in San Diego. This is a city that takes its waistline very seriously. But we’re also human, and fried chicken is catnip for humans.  And so The Crack Shack is a very, very good idea. If there’s a remaining hole in San Diego’s bustling restaurant scene, it’s a fried chicken joint.

The popularity of Carnitas Snack Shack—where pork belly may be the least caloric monster on the menu—has proven that San Diegans are more than leaf-nibbling fat dodgers. Flavor matters. And few foods on the planet are more flavorful and comforting than a piece of chicken, dredged in various herbs and spices, deep-fried to the crispy, orange-brown skin tone of George Hamilton.

Fresh off the raging success of Juniper & Ivy, chefs Richard Blais and Jon Sloan, along with owner Michael Rosen, decided to essentially build this outdoor chicken shack in the parking lot of their flagship restaurant. The commute to work for them is about 20 feet.

The Crack Shack experience starts at a window, as shacks should. The line is usually pretty long. After ordering you mak e your way to shaded outdoor seating. There’s a full bar. Servers take your drink orders. There’s a wall mural of the Beatles’ classic Abbey Road album cover (the one where they’re walking in a crosswalk) with the musicians’ heads replaced by chicken heads. There’s a bocce ball court, which kids use on the weekend a makeshift playground. There’s music playing. It feels like a day party waiting to happen.

Blais and Sloan are serving good, drug-free chickens here. They’re literally getting their Jidori chickens the morning they’re slaughtered. Fresh meat. Good meat. Which matters in the chicken world, since no meat in the American food system has been so severely screwed with—abused, pumped full of drugs and disease-addled.

We popped in for a tasting, and here are a few thoughts, dish-by-dish.

FRIED CHICKEN

Excellent. Extremely juicy. Crack Shack worked with the same spice company that works with Thomas Keller on his fried chicken herb blend. It’s not the same, but obviously it’s a trusted, excellent source. And it shows. Incredibly crispy and flavorful, but juicy inside. Sloan says in the beginning, the fried chicken freaked out customers. Americans are used to bloodless chicken—commercial chicken that’s been rinsed and chemically treated until no trace of blood remains. But with the Crack Shack’s Jidori chicken, blood is a good thing. It’s a normal part of having very good, quality, non-commercial chicken. And so they’ve started including the disclaimer that you can see here in the photo.

THE SAUCES

This may be the best thing about the Crack Shack’s program. There are very few places that give you this many quality sauces for free. There’s a chimichurri sauce (classic Argentinian meat accompaniment with cilantro, parsley, garlic, etc.), Baja hot sauce, kimchi barbecue (fantastic, with the kimchi cutting the sweet barbecue), curry mustard, a dill-forward buttermilk ranch, and cracksup. Using these six sauces, included at each table in a caddy, makes each bite of fried chicken a different experience. Gourmet playful.

SENOR CROQUE

Oh, Jesus. This is fantastic. It starts with a brioche, which is slathered with miso-maple butter. That butter is some magic, served also with their house biscuits. In the sandwich is crispy fried chicken, bacon, a fried egg and cheddar. The chicken is brined, which makes it incredibly juicy. Three bites is enough. Share it with the whole family or broke friends.

COOP DEVILLE