Atlanta Orders In: How Crispy delivers exceptional fried chicken sandwiches

How Crispy Express’ classic sandwich has made the Summerhill pop-up a Saturday morning destination. Courtesy of Morganne Lee
How Crispy Express’ classic sandwich has made the Summerhill pop-up a Saturday morning destination. Courtesy of Morganne Lee

Credit: Morganne Lee

Credit: Morganne Lee

It’s a drizzly Saturday morning in Summerhill, and Will Silbernagel is standing under a tent, frying chicken thighs. Under the canopy is a makeshift kitchen where Silbernagel — in a tan cap, mask and vinyl gloves — puts together a simple menu of chicken sandwiches and nuggets.

Inside the building, Greg Best, a legendary Atlanta mixologist and Silbernagel’s business partner, is calling out orders and bagging food. This is my first experience at How Crispy Express, a pop-up camping out at its future home. I’m not just waiting on fried-chicken sandwiches; I’m watching a fledging restaurant take flight.

Silbernagel — a versatile chef with an eclectic resume that encompasses fine dining and a recent stint at Shake Shack — pitched his How Crispy idea to Best a little over three years ago. In late 2019, they staged their first pop-up at Halfway Crooks Beer, with plans to open a quick-serve chicken shack across the street in May of 2020. “Then COVID hit, and our investors ran for the hills,” Silbernagel said.

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The chicken nuggets at How Crispy Express come in sixes, with honey mustard, for $4. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The chicken nuggets at How Crispy Express come in sixes, with honey mustard, for $4. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

As the pandemic unfolded, the pop-up format evolved. Silbernagel moved his makeshift kitchen to the second floor of Halfway Crooks. Using a rope and a plastic bucket, orders were lowered through a window to the waiting crowd. “It was wildly popular, and people loved it, and it was totally like a play on social distancing,” he said. (Also, buckets of chicken — get it?)

The pop-up has been so successful that the project has regained its footing, and its funding. The owners now hope to open their space by July or August.

Until then, customers have two hours on Saturday mornings to try Silbernagel’s breakfast sandwich with whipped honey butter; original Classic Crispy with lettuce, bread-and-butter pickles and herb-flecked mayo; and six-packs of nuggets with honey mustard. One breakfast sandwich comes on a French-toast-dipped bun. A lemon pepper wet and an Indian tikka-style treatment also have made guest appearances.

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How Crispy makes breakfast sandwiches, like the French toast-dipped Early Bird Deluxx (front two) and the Early Bird (rear). Both come with whipped honey butter. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
How Crispy makes breakfast sandwiches, like the French toast-dipped Early Bird Deluxx (front two) and the Early Bird (rear). Both come with whipped honey butter. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Silbernagel, 39, grew up in Jonesboro, earned an accounting degree at Georgia State University and attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Tucker. As a kid, he loved cooking with his mother, a native of Cali, Colombia. He’s worked in restaurants since he was 14. In culinary school, he noticed his peers wanted to cook fancy plated dishes, so he gravitated toward desserts and pastries.

While working at Bookhouse Pub, he and a friend ran Bookie Macarons, a weekend pop-up that had a devoted following. Best, who created the cocktail program at Holeman & Finch Public House, and is now a partner at Ticonderga Club, was a fan of Silbernagel’s macarons.

Greg Best (left) organizes orders at a Saturday morning pop-up, while partner Will Silbernagel makes sandwiches. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Greg Best (left) organizes orders at a Saturday morning pop-up, while partner Will Silbernagel makes sandwiches. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Silbernagel originally envisioned How Crispy as a celebration of fried-chicken recipes from around the world. He eventually honed in on the sandwich, which is ideal for the kind of small, quick-serve restaurant that How Crispy will be. The 750-square-foot space will have a patio of the same size, and a menu of chicken sandwiches, sides and drinks in cans (including wine and beer). Despite Best’s formidable skills as a mixologist, there won’t be cocktails.

Silbernagel said that, in coming up with the sort of fried chicken sandwich he likes to eat, Nashville hot chicken was out, because it’s too spicy. “I wanted to have a chicken sandwich that was different from a lot of stuff in town,” he said. The thighs are marinated with herbs, spices, lemon juice and buttermilk, and are twice-fried, for extra crunch.

How Crispy’s classic sandwich is made with a buttermilk-brined, twice-fried thigh, and is dressed with lettuce, pickles and herby mayo. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
How Crispy’s classic sandwich is made with a buttermilk-brined, twice-fried thigh, and is dressed with lettuce, pickles and herby mayo. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

After milling around the pop-up for a few minutes, I ambled back to Silbernagel’s kitchen-in-a-tent, just in time to see him with a tray of impeccably fried and crisped bird. It took considerable will power not to chomp into a sandwich the minute Best brought it out.

Back home, I made quick work of the classic, and now I believe I understand the How Crispy mystique. Silbernagel has created a destination sandwich that is otherworldly, and deeply satisfying.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

Will Silbernagel is the founder of How Crispy Express, a fried chicken sandwich pop-up with plans for a permanent home in Summerhill.
Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Will Silbernagel is the founder of How Crispy Express, a fried chicken sandwich pop-up with plans for a permanent home in Summerhill. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

HOW CRISPY EXPRESS

Menu: fried chicken sandwiches, nuggets

Alcohol: no

What I ordered: Early Bird, two Early Bird Deluxxes, two Nuggies, two Classics, side of berry jam. I loved the food, and the details (wet wipes; little wooden spreaders for the honey butter; the reward card for free nuggets with the purchase of seven sandwiches).

Service options: takeout only; order online via Instagram for pickup

Outdoor dining: yes, with limited seating

Mask policy: yes, for employees and patrons picking up

Address, phone: 71-B Georgia Ave., Atlanta; no phone

Hours: 10 a.m.-noon Saturdays

Website: instagram.com/howcrispy

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