A funny thing happens when you pull into the parking lot that leads to Chicken Scratch, a week-old restaurant conceived by masterminds Christopher Zielke, Christopher Jeffers, and Chef Tim Byres of SMOKE. First, the smell of fried chicken strikes your nose like hot oil; second, you hear birds chirping (and suddenly a sense of guilt washes over you for what you’re about to eat); and third, after you get out of your car, you find yourself passing through an enormous structure that looks like a gigantic chicken coop. It might as well have a sign plastered to the front that reads, “Welcome, little chickadee, to the world of chicken.”
Jump or flap your wings.
Chicken Scratch is really the brainchild of Tim Byres, the award-winning chef of SMOKE. Having two kids posed a difficulty when there weren’t too many restaurants around Dallas that would allow his offspring to run around, so Byres and his partners built an enclosed outdoor space where kids could play safely while their parents ate fried chicken with a beer or two. Heavy shipping containers create the boundary for Chicken Scratch, barricading it from the trailer park to the left and post office in the back. Chris Jeffers’ wife furnished the clunky metal containers with furniture she bought from thrift stores on Jefferson Avenue. “They’re not even second hand; it’s probably third or fourth hand, and it’s the last stop this furniture is going to make,” says Jeffers.
It’s hard not to go on and on about the design of this place – it really is. Just about every piece of furniture and design – from the hanging lamps fashioned out of crates to the wall decor – is a lesson in recycling. The wooden stage that hosted its first live jam session last Saturday is constructed entirely out of reused pallets stacked on top of each other. Gary Buckner, the “King of Repurposing,” is the man behind this structure, and he’s also the person to blame in case the stage ever comes crashing down. (Don’t worry, it probably won’t happen.)
Two buildings with air conditioning sit on the right edge of the outdoor space, and that’s where you’ll hide if the weather’s acting up. Inside Chicken Scratch, you can order your chicken rotisserie or fried in quarter, half, or whole sizes. There are a few options (like the quinoa and chunky vegetables plate; lettuce, sprouts, seeds, and tofu salad; and hummus with saltine crackers) for vegetarians and vegans, but the focus is mainly on the chicken, which is undeniably good. I’ve said this before in my Sissy’s post, but to reiterate: I am not a huge fan of fried chicken. Not-so-begrudgingly, I foresee my conversion into one because of places like Chicken Scratch, where the peppery skin falls off easily and reveals tender, moist meat underneath. My lunch partner had to stop me from picking at the fried skin crumbs on my tin plate and told me to try his rotisserie chicken, which I couldn’t stop burying my teeth into. Try both types of chicken with the oregano-vinegar-honey sauce or crackling gravy, and really, you have yourself a meal made in heaven.
The only complaint I have pertains to the crumbly biscuits. I’m used to eating flaky, buttery and puffed-up biscuits from my four years in North Carolina, and Chicken Scratch’s couldn’t hold up to my measure of fluff.
At one point, I asked Jeffers why popsicles (in cantaloupe, piña colada, strawberry, mango, and lime) are the only dessert offering they have on the menu. He tells me I’ll understand when I have children of my own some day. “Popsicles solve so many problems when you’re a parent. When kids go crazy or get cranky, it’s a great quick reward, but it doesn’t fill them up.” Genius.
I haven’t gotten a chance to venture into The Foundry, the bar that sits next to Chicken Scratch, but Jeffers tells me that it’s been getting good business so far. At night, the whole outdoor space lights up and becomes a cozy spot for friends and families to hang out with their beers and kids (two words you hardly see used together in a restaurant write-up). Even for those who can’t stand being around kids, the space is large enough for them to avoid small people. They can stay inside or outside, linger in the chicken coop area, lounge in one of the shipping containers, or take a walk near the garden the partners are growing off to the side. It’s really the best of both worlds. No, more like three. Or four.