Butterbird on Regent Street serves crispy fried chicken – Isthmus

Butterbird bills itself as “Wisco’s Finest Chicken + Bar.” That billing matches the high expectations for this fast casual fried chicken emporium, the second restaurant from Joe and Shaina Robbins Papach, the team behind Madison’s much-lauded Harvey House.

The concept behind Butterbird makes sense — a limited menu focused on that American favorite, fried chicken, plus a few picnicky appetizers and sides, a couple of salad options, and a big drink menu that says fun, fun, fun. Even the wine list focuses on picnic wines. The dining room boasts board games, a photo booth, and one of those claw prize machines. The eatery is poised to please harried parents, their picky tots, college students, and anyone going to a Badgers game.

If Butterbird stumbles, it is somewhere between the execution of its menu and the expectations built up around it. To put it another way: All the food I had at Butterbird was good. But nothing knocked my socks off.

Fried chicken comes fresh out of the fryer, hot and very crispy. The two-piece basket comes as either a leg and thigh or a breast and wing; I forgot to specify and was given the breast/wing. The wing had a lot of meat on it, and the breast was one of those big pieces that makes you wonder what the chicken must have looked like. The meat had a subtle flavor that speaks of a good brine. The batter is crispy but not flavored, i.e., there’s no 11 secret herbs and spices a la the Colonel. Instead there’s a choice of dipping sauces for pizazz. I’d rather dip chicken tenders than big pieces of chicken — in truth I’d rather have the batter spiced. I ended up with the hot honey sauce, which would be great on a biscuit. (Hot honey biscuits are served, in fact, at weekend brunch.) Also available: a half or whole fried bird, tenders, and wings.

The chicken basket doesn’t come with anything, but there are a handful of sides, all $5: french fries, mac ‘n cheese, hot honey sweet potato, broccoli salad, and coleslaw. French fries are good (like a plumper McDonald’s), and I loved the broccoli salad, which features al dente broccoli, plump raisins, and cubes of apple, dressed with a sweet but not too sweet mayo mix. (Sadly missing is mashed potatoes and gravy.)

Nashville hot chicken sandwiches have been riding the culinary wave for a few years now, a trend that shows little sign of slowing. Butterbird’s version is the Badger Hot, which comes with “hot chili oil, super dill pickles and smoky chipotle mayo.” It doesn’t bring much heat, either from the oil or the mayo. Both it and the classic chicken sandwich (dressed with a mild dilly ranch) are fine, but would benefit from a greater play of flavors, maybe subbing sweet pickle for the dill. The Badger Hot tasted more interesting when I ate a leftover half-sandwich cold the next morning; the flavor of the chicken emerged, and the sweetness of the bun contrasted with the dill pickle and the rich batter. That’s also reassurance for anyone ordering takeout that this food doesn’t have to be right out of the fryer to be enjoyed.

Also on trend is the smash burger, which features two patties, American cheese, fried onions, dill pickles, and a sesame seed bun. It tastes exactly like a Culver’s double ButterBurger (possibly a little cheesier). My table mate insisted there was a difference: “There’s more meat here.” And that’s true; Butterbird’s has eight ounces of hamburger to Culver’s five. Is Butterbird’s version worth its $16 price tag? Well, you’re not going to be able to order a paloma at Culver’s, or a Jell-O shot; consider that in some ways you’re paying for the experience.

Other sandwiches include pulled chicken (served like a grilled cheese, with swiss) and possibly as a nod to vegetarians, an eggplant parm sandwich. Salads include a big kale caesar (if ordered as a side, this could be split three ways) and a roasted veg bowl (with broccoli, wonderful spiced chickpeas, avocado, and cubes of sweet potato on mixed greens, lightly dressed with a mild lemon vinaigrette).

The biggest disappointment was dessert. The banana pudding sundae, made with vanilla soft serve, just tastes like vanilla soft serve — the dullest dessert imaginable — with some sliced bananas and a Nilla wafer on top. How about a real banana pudding? I know the minds behind Butterbird could knock that out of the park. 


1134 Regent St.

no phone;

4-9 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun.


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