From fast-food to fine dining, North Texas is a veritable coop of chicken restaurants. As far as most fast-casual poultry purveyors go, we all know the drill: barely seasoned fried chickens (the only moisture coming from fry grease) that get by solely on the merits of their crispy, salty skin. Rotisserie birds, spinning for hours, often feature lazily seasoned skin dangling from forgotten corpses. Bland mashed potatoes and rubbery macaroni and cheese round out the plates.
That is not the situation at Farmbyrd Rotisserie & Fry.
Tim McLaughlin, best-known as pitmaster/owner of Lockhart Smokehouse, may have made his local fame with beef, but he clearly doesn't see yardbird as an afterthought. Plano, home to Lockhart's second branch, is now the home of the first iteration of Farmbyrd Rotisserie & Fry, his new chicken concept created with partners Ryan Carbery and RJ Timmons. Aside from focusing on a different protein, McLaughlin says the concepts actually aren’t that different.
“Our focus at Farmbyrd is not much different than [Lockhart]: serve great food, offer great service, be proud of what you do,” McLaughlin says.
Located in the Parker Preston Crossing Center, the space itself is wide open, and the natural tones and reclaimed odds and ends contribute to the comfortable vibe and barnyard chic motif. The service style at Farmbyrd is a hybrid of classic quick-service restaurant with an added dash of Southern hospitality. While you order at the cash register and initially fetch your own drinks, attentive, well-mannered staff periodically check on diners, fetching refills and sauces.
“The idea for the feel of the restaurant and of the food is as if we were having our guest over to our home for a get together, lunch or dinner,” says chef and owner Ryan Carbery, whose relationship with McLaughlin started in 2001 in the busy St. Louis kitchen of Zuzu’s Petals. “We knew that everyone loves chicken, and we wanted to offer our version of the everyday and the not-so-everyday sides that were already somewhat staples on menus,” he says.
Ordering is made fairly simple due to the fact there are only two main options: fried or rotisserie chicken available by the quarter, half or whole bird ($5.79, $9.79, $18.99 and $5.99, $9.99, $17.99 respectively). Either way you go, the birds are farm-fresh, individually inspected, never frozen and free of hormones and antibiotics.
The fried chicken has a crunchy and heavily spiced skin with moist, flavorful meat beneath. The spices are loud and reminiscent of a barbecue rub with paprika and chili flavors, but there are also herbal, rosemary-like notes. The spices definitely make this bird unique, but they don’t overpower the chicken.
The rotisserie birds are generously seasoned as well, although the meat is more savory and the spices seem a bit more subdued than on the fried chicken. The skin is crispy but not dried out, and the meat is juicy. The rotisserie chicken is served with corn tortillas and a flavorful, tangy salsa verde with a nice kick of heat.
There are a few other house sauces to be found at the condiment bar area, including the Sassy Mollassy, a sweet barbecue sauce; Reckless Red, a tangier, spicier take on Louisiana Hot Sauce; and Farmbyrd Ranch, a creamy, spicy ranch that’s pretty damn delicious.
The sides may require a little more consideration when ordering. Between the “Classics” and “Favorites” are a variety of sides and small dishes that range from classic chicken-house sides like mac and cheese or pork and beans to interesting healthier options like red quinoa or artichokes with goat cheese.
“It is a little different, but intuitive,” McLaughlin says. “I think that today’s restaurant-goer is looking for a greater variety of food, along with being more health-conscious in their ordering. We are trying to make that sort of lifestyle a little easier.”
Don’t pass up the cilantro-y black beans with charred tomatoes and green chilis or the red quinoa, earthy with fresh, crisp flavors from tomatoes, cucumbers, mint and parsley, which comes from the "Classics" menu (all $2.89). On the "Favorites" menu, ($4.99) check out the loaded fries piled with jalapeños, smoked bacon and pimento cheese, or the cauliflower gratin featuring asiago, Parmesan and pecorino cheeses.
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The space also features a full bar with a variety of wines, cocktails and local beers. There’s an added bonus for thirsty patrons: If you pull up a seat to the bar to catch a game on the flat screens, you can skip a line and enjoy full service.
Open only since Jan. 17, the future may seem far away, but McLaughlin’s goals for the concept show he’s not scared to dream ambitiously — or maybe he's just been watching too much Pinky & the Brain. “World domination,” he says with a laugh. “I’m not sure. I love the concept and really think it can grow. We would love to open in other locations, but we are trying to offer the folks at Parker and Preston the best product we can every day. So, I guess my goal today is to have a great lunch followed by a great dinner."
Lunch is good. Dinner is good. Farmbyrd’s short term goals seem to be going well. We’ll have to see how long before the brand’s world domination pans out.
Farmbyrd Rotisserie & Fry, 3308 Preston Road, Plano