Worth the Wait: Honey Butter Fried Chicken

By Sarah Freeman  |  September 13, 2013
Credit: Nick Murway

Some things are worth waiting for. Very special things, like Honey Butter Fried Chicken, are worth waiting exactly two years, three months and 14 days for. It was that long ago that chef-owners Christine Cikowski and Joshua Kulp of Sunday Dinner Club announced their famous fried chicken would move out of its underground supper club and into a restaurant. During that time, they scoured the city for the perfect space, developed a team that could replicate the community vibe of the supper club in a brick-and-mortar restaurant, and perfected a menu of sides and cocktails.

One thing remained consistent throughout the time-consuming process: fried chicken. “The chicken is the same from Sunday Dinner Club,” Kulp says. “Same spice mixture, same honey butter, same brine, and what has also stayed the same is our commitment to great ingredients.” The fried chicken uses locally sourced Amish chicken that has been brined for 24 hours. The chicken is battered in seasoned flour with black pepper, paprika, garlic and onion. After the chicken is deep-fried, it gets another sprinkle of paprika and served with a hearty serving of honey butter.

The origin of the honey butter of fried chicken traces back to a family meal served at Sunday Dinner. A dollop of honey butter was accidentally dropped on a piece of the signature fried chicken and history was made, so to speak. The appeal of the sweet and spicy flavor combination could not be denied, and Cikowski and Kulp have been serving it that way ever since.

“Christine and I have always touched every piece of food we ever cooked,” Kulp explains. “At Honey Butter we will have touched every piece of food that we ever cooked through people we trust.” Their team of 20 people has been trained to not only serve the food that fans of nine-year-running Sunday Dinner Club adore, but also to serve it with the same level of hospitality one can expect at an intimate gathering rather than at a busy restaurant. In the meantime, Sunday Dinner Club will continue to operate under the guidance of sous chefs Amy Hoover and Becca Waron.

“We want to be here and experience it and get to know the customers, be a part of the food and a part of the culture,” Cikowski said. She will have a chance to do just that, and see an idea two-plus years in the making when Honey Butter Fried Chicken finally opens to the public on Saturday at 5 PM at 3361 North Elston Avenue (773-478-4000).

  • Space

    The odd triangular building posed a bit of a challenge for the team, but the spacious back patio was worth the struggle. Honey Butter Fried chicken is divided into thirds. The front corner holds the dining room, decorated with wood reclaimed from an Indiana chicken farm and a mural painted by partners and graphic designers Jen Mayer and Chris Jennings. The host stand too is a work of art with pieces of end-grain wood placed into a honeycomb pattern and arranged from the darkest grains to lightest. Tables are mostly four- and six-tops with chair bases reused from the former restaurant. But the front wall features bench seating - a tribute to Sunday Dinner Club’s communal seating.

  • Bar/Patio

    Venture into the back corner to peek into the open kitchen or sit at the bar. The more casual space is filled with high-tops and a bar rail for casual eating and drinking. The bar leads to the selling point of the space: the patio. Cedar tables fill the enclosed space. Lush ivy covers the back wall and “community magnet art” adorns a metal cooler on the side wall. Sting of twinkle lights illuminate the space perfect for drinking the restaurant’s “front-porch cocktails,” which include the likes of coriander sangrita (tomato, Corazon Blanco tequila, lime and a can of Tecate) and the Avondale ginger mule (molasses, ginger, Death’s Door gin, lime and mint).

  • Food

    Because a restaurant cannot sustain on fried chicken alone, Honey Butter offers farmer's market-driven side dishes such as heirloom tomatoes and toasted corn with dill vinaigrette; roasted sweet potatoes with cilantro and lime; Chinese broccoli with red-pepper sauce and goat cheese; and pimiento mac 'n' cheese with garlic bread crumbs. Not only will the sides change seasonally, but desserts including market plum dump cake and chocolate toffee cookies will rotate as well. In addition to cocktail, the bar will also serve craft beers from Half Acre, Revolution, Two Brothers, 5 Rabbit and Lakefront. The restaurant will open with only dinner service, but it plans to expand to lunch soon.