There ought to be a word for the phenomenon in which a restaurant is so adorable that diners fail to realize, or willfully ignore, an inconvenient truth — the food just isn’t that great.
(And, no, this word need not be German. If anything, it should be spoken in the patois of Brooklyn’s Park Slope.)
This is the surprising state of things at Oddbird, the popular pop-up that roosts four nights a week at West Egg Cafe.
Is Oddbird adorbs? Check. Menu items include a PB&J Chicken Sandwich and a spicy fillet that you can order “hot” or “too hot.” The only dessert on offer is pie.
Is Oddbird on trend? Check. Chicken and waffles are everywhere these days and they’re stars of this menu, too. Oddbird is also a pop-up, and the only thing currently cooler than a pop-up is a pop-up inside a food hall.
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But, is Oddbird ultimately disappointing? Check, even if did take me a beat to realize it, so delighted was I by the upscale fried food, the picturesque little pies and the retro menu.
The primary issue was the bird itself. The crust on Oddbird’s chicken was sublime — salty, flavorful and thick, yet crunchy from surface to bird. It was fried to a deep, earthy brown.
The problem lurked inside this tasty carapace. The chicken was boneless, and a mammoth slab. And it was dry. Very dry. Saw-through-it-with-your-knife-because-it’s-too-unwieldy-to-gnaw-on dry.
This troubled fillet is the centerpiece of virtually every item on the menu. That is Oddbird’s fatal flaw.
That said, the accouterments and sides did their valiant best to save the day and, in some cases, they succeeded.
Those waffles, for instance. Paired with aromatic thyme butter and syrup infused with a hint of rosemary, they were as crisp-edged, fluffy and subtly sweet as the chicken was weighty.
The waffles were less successful in the night’s special, Lime in the Coconut, only because they were drowned in a slightly strange pool of lemongrass-scented peanut maple brown sugar sauce.
This dish is another example of novelty that seems clever at the time, misguided in hindsight.
The mac and cheese side was lovely — al dente cavatappi in a luxurious but not-too-gooey white sauce. The collards, too, were perfectly prepared. The greens had enough bite to make them feel fresh and modern, but not so much that they were bitter and Yankified. The only misstep came, again, from the meat. The pork hiding in the greens was too thick and too chewy. I found myself picking through the dish to avoid those piggy bits, rather than seeking them out like the smoky little treasures they should be.
On my hot chicken biscuit sat a tangle of delicately shaved bread and butter pickles. They were not too sweet, not too sour, and I ate every one. Not just because they were tasty, but because they cleansed my palate of the dish’s other element — the “butterlard” biscuit. There’s been much kvelling about these get-’em-before-they-run-out biscuits on social media, but I found mine resistible. It was towering, doughy and, like the chicken it sandwiched, heavy.
Even if you’re not seeking relief from dishes like these, the Eat Like a Bird salad is a breath of fresh air.
The lettuce was fresh and springy. The pickled onions and intriguingly black balsamic egg provided kicky acid, while the sorghum vinaigrette chimed in with a whisper of Southern sweetness. All this bright and bouncy goodness was topped with impossibly slender matchstick potatoes. They crisped between the teeth, then melted on the tongue like bits of savory meringue. While just an accent, these potatoes were so skillfully fried, they made me wistful for the light and luscious chicken that could have been.
Tempted as we were by vintage-cool flavors like lemon buttermilk and blueberry custard, we couldn’t face even a small deep-dish pie after dinner, so we happily split a peach-blueberry fried pie, sided by a tiny mason jar of soft-serve vanilla ice cream. It was quite good — flaky and fruity and fun.
As with the salad and sides, I could see going back for one of those delicious little turnovers, having it with a cup of coffee or even one of Oddbird’s simple, summery cocktails.
But when it comes to the main event — the chicken — I am Oddbirded out.