THE HEADLINE I read early this year, "Micah Camden to open fried chicken shack," set my stomach to gurgling right then and there.
Camden—who creates a tasty fast-casual restaurant for seemingly every burgeoning food trend—was finally tackling my favorite unhealthy food of all time. I couldn't wait to see his gourmet-ish twist on crispy-skinned bird. This was one assignment that would surely make me happy I took this gig as a food critic.
Most of Camden's ventures, like Blue Star Donuts and Little Big Burger, have drawn enough crowds to inspire multiple locations, and deservedly so. Others, like downtown's Boxer Ramen are fair, although I haven't returned after slurping down an overly salted bowl of tonkotsu ramen.
Now, Son of a Biscuit is finally here. Its bright blue exterior pops on SE Division, and the yellow sign (perhaps with a nod to the low-brow fare) promises a 3.5 star experience. If we are rating on a scale of five, that barely-above-middling score is accurate. Yet I'm also not sure that's where those stars will stay. Recent visits show that Camden—or whomever he pays to do such things these days—is actively monitoring what customers are saying and tweaking as he goes.
Roll up to the chalkboard menu, which is ever so slightly confusing, and choose from three basic options: two pieces with a side and a biscuit ($8.50 dark meat; $9.50 white meat); four pieces with a side and a biscuit ($12.50); or a whole bird with two biscuits and two sides ($24). That's it. (The restaurant experimented early on with what was, by most accounts, a sad chicken sandwich—and as of early August, had also jettisoned the chicken tenders, inexplicably served without any dipping sauce.)
I'll start with the best thing on the menu: the biscuits ($1.50 each or four for $5). They're three inches tall, dense, and already hit with butter and honey—although, no additional butter and honey are set out for customers... and they should be. They're not the best biscuits in town—that title goes to Lauretta Jean's—but they certainly earned their spot in the name of the restaurant. The insides stray toward just underdone, which I like, and the outside is crusty and warm.
It gets tricky, however, when those biscuits accompany the original recipe chicken. They put honey on the chicken, without asking me if that was okay. Note: It is NOT OKAY. I have a low tolerance for the combination of salty and sweet, and when both my biscuit and my chicken are hit with bee vomit, I have no way to regulate. A bite of the pickle slices, which are piled with the chicken on slices of white bread drizzled with ranch, provided little relief. If sweetness is your thing, you'll be fine. As for me? Never again.
The Nashville-style hot chicken, on the other hand, pleases me greatly. Usually, I bust out a bottle of Secret Aardvark for my fried-chicken delights, but this bird arrived bright orange, immediately signaling the high cayenne pepper content in the breading. One bite slid spice-side-up down my throat, and my tallboy ($3 for beer; $4 for cider) had to be called into action. Plus, the sweetness inherent in the accompanying biscuit cut the heat nicely. In both the original and spicy recipes, the boneless breasts strayed toward dry, but this happens frequently with white meat. Leave them and seize a bone-in thigh piece for the perfect skin-to-meat-to-moisture ratio.
Now for the bad news: There's hardly a side dish ($3 each) worth ordering, and with a menu this small, that's tragic. Most in need of a makeover is the mac 'n' cheese, which appears seemingly reheated in a plastic container, whether you order in house or to-go. It is gummy and heavy. The slaw is sauced with a red wine vinaigrette and very fresh, making it a welcome (if slightly under-seasoned) addition. The potato salad was also fine but went unfinished, while the fries—similar to those at Little Big Burger, hit with Cajun spice, here—are fine. The banana pudding had mushy biscuit mixed in: It needs a swap-out with crunchy Nilla Wafers.
I say this with love, because (even though I honestly do love Popeyes) with a few more adjustments, Son of a Biscuit will be a weeknight option I'd be happy to add to the rotation.
Open Mon-Sat 11:30 am-10 pm. Sun 5-9 pm. Call ahead for takeout orders (but have your card ready).