"This is one of hopefully 200. That's our goal."
So says chef Bradley Ogden about his new restaurant Funky Chicken that opened last week on Heights Blvd just south of I-10. The Bay Area chef won a James Beard Award for bringing farm to table cuisine to Las Vegas. Now he's trying to bring that same ethos to the fast casual space with a restaurant he describes as a "fun, fast casual fried chicken joint."
According to Ogden, Funky Chicken is built on a simple formula that starts with "organic chicken . . . no hormones, all natural." Then it gets Ogden's signature marinade and light breading before being "almost fried to order (in) great oil (without) saturated fats."
Houstonians will get a fuller sense of Ogden's cuisine in 2014 when he opens two more restaurants.
There's roast chicken, too, although Ogden says he and son Bryan are "still working on the crispiness" of the chicken's skin. Sides run the gamut: Everything from expected favorites like mashed potatoes and mac and cheese to honest to goodness vegetables like roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots. Add to that a comprehensive selection of Maine Root natural sodas and a couple desserts to complete the family-friendly concept.
As for the food, it's pretty good. Over the course of two visits, I sampled the fried chicken, roast chicken, chicken pot pie and a few of the sides. The fried chicken is definitely crispy, if more mildly seasoned that some of the Cajun-inspired versions seen at Popeyes or Frenchy's, and the batter stayed attached to the meat. The roast chicken had a nice citrus flavor in the marinade, but could have benefited from crispier skin. The pot pie made for a creamy, soupy, comforting lunch on a cool Sunday morning.
Of the sides, the mac and cheese and Brussels were my favorite. I haven't made it to the mashed potatoes, yet, but the French fries were kind of limp.
Frenchy's and Barbecue Inn are still at the top of my list for fried chicken in Houston, but Funky Chicken is both easier to get to and faster than either of those options. I suspect that the nearby Smashburger and Chipotle are Ogden's true targets, and, by that standard, he's definitely on the right track. The restaurant's clean look, upbeat soundtrack and friendly service should help it grow.
Houstonians will get a fuller sense of Ogden's cuisine in 2014 when he opens two more restaurants. Bradley's Fine Diner, coming in March to the same shopping center as Funky Chicken, will serve classic American cuisine at breakfast, lunch and dinner with a full bar. Then in May, Ogden's Pour Society, formerly known as Hops & Harvest, will bring an "upscale pub" to the Gateway Memorial City development.
As for Ogden's line to Eater that Houstonians are "starving for great places to eat," the chef clarifies that he didn't mean any offense to the city's existing restaurants. "What I'm saying is, in every community throughout the world, there are always opportunities to open a good restaurant," he tells CultureMap.
Want to decide whether Funky Chicken qualifies? It's open everyday for lunch and dinner.