Fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and pimento cheese from Little Chicken in Washington, D.C.
The spread at Little Chicken Credit: Nevin Martell

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Peep this spot. Plucking awesome. Im-peck-ably good. Pushing the hen-velope. Flock stars.

OK, got all the chicken puns out.

Now on to the serious matter of Little Chicken, a collaboration between Grazie Grazie’s Casey Patten and chefs Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan, formerly of Maydan and now behind Union Market’s blossoming kebab joint Yasmine and Navy Yard Caribbean hot spot Bammy’s, where Peter Prime leads the kitchen. The downtown fried chicken spot in the Midtown Center development is next door to pasta and pizza loving red sauce joint Grazie Nonna, which Patten and Addison helm. (Try to keep all those partnerships straight, there will be a quiz.).

Yes, Little Chicken opened last May, but it’s so damn good and so much fun it deserves the attention of a column nine months later.

First, a little backstory. Morgan and Addison got to know Patten by participating in his Chance for Life fundraiser for childhood cancer research. The three gelled, each bringing a unique viewpoint to conversations about what makes a successful restaurant. “Chris always takes a look at something from what’s new and how food is evolving,” says Patten. “Gerald looks back to the roots of how things started. And I think a lot about, ‘Does it taste good and how does it present in front of customers?’”

After batting various ideas around, they decided to tackle fried chicken. To research, the three took an epic research and development trip with stops in Charlotte, Charleston, Atlanta, and Nashville. Over the course of five days, they ate at 60 spots looking for the perfect bird. The schedule was grueling, the aftershock pronounced. When Patten stepped on the scale back home, he was 10 pounds heavier.

But it was all worth it. The trio had a collective aha moment in Charlotte at Price’s Chicken Coop, a beloved stalwart which then shuttered after nearly six decades in business. But Patten’s memory of their chicken endures. “The bird had the right seasoning and it felt like it had been brined,” he says.  

That set the bar, sending the three down a rabbit hole of conversations about brine recipes, brining times, and how to divide the seasoning between the salty solution and the breading. Though Patten is close-lipped about the process and recipe, they landed on a classic brine (no buttermilk or pickle juice) rich with what he calls “Mid-Atlantic spices,” which, by the taste of it, means you might find some components of Old Bay in their spicing without the chicken tasting like the iconic Maryland seasoning. But maybe not. Consider it a mystery to debate.

Chicken comes in myriad ways: half bird, whole bird, wings, tenders (which outsell the wings by a wide margin), or a tantalizing spread of sandwiches. No matter how you order it, it comes out hot, its coating vibrant brown, almost bronze, its surface a sprawl of crags, perfect for catching sauce. There’s a satisfying crunch when you bite in, revealing tender, juicy meat packed with flavor. They nailed the process. This is some of the best fried chicken in town, right up there some of my other faves: Roaming Rooster, Hot Lola’s, Lucky Buns, ChiKo, and Queen Mother’s.

The chicken stands tall on its own, but who doesn’t like to dunk and drizzle? Choose from a rainbow of nine sauces: tongue torching hot sauce, sorghum mustard, herby green goddess, barbeque, Alabama white sauce (the top seller), herbaceous ranch, pepper jelly, spicy mayo, and chili garlic crisp.

The Little Chicken sandwich Credit: Nevin Martell

Sandwiches arrive on golden, bouncy brioche buns, dressed up like they’re ready to party. Standouts include the Little Chicken with spicy mayo, bread and butter pickles, and shaved onion, and the Cluck Norris with lettuce, mayo, hot sauce, and pepper jelly.

There are a few share-minded starters, including by-the-book pimento cheese with a well of smoked tomato jam and requisite Ritz crackers, and buffalo-sauced deep-fried cauliflower florets with your choice of ranch or blue cheese.

Pimento cheese and Ritz crackers Credit: Nevin Martell

When it comes to the sides, there’s relief from all the fried, rich goodness on the menu, including coleslaw, cucumber salad, three-bean salad, and broccoli salad. However, the mac ’n’ cheese is worth indulging in, made with cavatappi-style curlicues of pasta sitting in a Cooper Sharp cheese sauce and sprinkled with Ritz Cracker crunchies.

Originally, biscuits were a part of the concept, but were eighty-sixed because making them consistently at scale wasn’t feasible. Instead, the team chose to offer rectangles of just-sweet-enough cornbread served with honey butter. Pro tip: Horizontally slice a slab in half, slip in a tender or two, and drizzle with your sauce of choice to create a delicious ad hoc sandwich.

Pies and frozen custards change with the weather. At last check, there were triangles of apple, banana cream, and pumpkin, along with salted caramel and vanilla custard. Indecisive diners can opt for the best of both worlds, a Pyclone, made by blending a slice into soft serve, like a downhome Dairy Queen Blizzard. Rainbow sprinkles are optional, but why would you deny yourself the childish delight? Speaking of kid-vibed desserts, root beer and creamsicle floats are also on offer.

On the alcoholic side of the drinks equation, the bar program is built around the idea of what folks want to drink when they’re playing lawn games or watching Sunday football: beers, crushes, margaritas, frozen pineapple daiquiris, and a michelada-for-four.

With 60 seats indoor, another 78 more outside, plus a 12-seat bar in the alleyway right next to the massive shuffleboard, the restaurant really comes alive in warm weather, when its front is opened to create a free flow between the inside and outside, what Patten calls “the ultimate backyard party.” The music’s loud, there’s neon, lots of pink, and the walls are splashed with faux graffiti, including that of the well-coiffed mascot. It’s the kind of place where it’s hard to not have a good time, and that’s totally the point.

If downtown D.C. isn’t your stomping grounds these days, take heart: This probably won’t be the last Little Chicken in the area. “My gut tells me there may be one or two more,” says Patten.

Cluck yeah!

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Little Chicken, 1100 15th St. NW. (202) 989-0292.