Chicken and Donuts at GBD Fried Chicken

A wise man told me this past week, “You know, you in D.C. You in the South now.” I guess I never really thought of it that way but yeah, there are significantly more people around me who drawl and shift their phonemes in ways foreign to me and I guess D.C. is technically under the Mason-Dixon line (if that really means anything). I understand I’m not deep into the South enough to be swimming in BBQ and cobbler, but – by golly – if I want to get my fried chicken and waffles on, there seem to be some good places to do so, places that don’t do it ironically, even. Headed by husband-and-wife team Kyle Bailey (in charge of chicken) and Tiffany MacIsaac (in charge of donuts), GBD (Golden Brown and Delicious) offers up something very similar, but in their case the crispy drums and wings are paired up with delicious and funky donuts, along with a host of fantastic sides and sauces to dunk the chicken (or – hell – the donuts) in. As our bartender explained, GBD blossomed out of the unexpected popularity of the chefs’ traditional Friday night fried chicken dinners. They filled house immediately and the custom outgrew its humble origins. Chef Bailey, known and respected around D.C. mostly for his beer-centric tasting menu at Birch & Barley, has visibly transfered the passion for microbrews and for pairing them with food over to GDB. On tap are 19 craft drafts which are categorized by pairing suggestion. I was excited to find out about this place and even more excited when my new roommate agreed to journey out to Dupont Circle with me to try it out.

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The restaurant itself is long and narrow, with a large open area near the host stand, which is no doubt meant for the hoards of daily breakfasters and lunchers to ponder the menu and get something quick to go. In fact, the dinner offerings aren’t really even up there, probably because for dinner you’re expected to park your butt in either a booth or a barstool, physically hold and look through a menu, and eat with a bit more leisure. Or maybe it’s just because the place is only a week or so old and they haven’t gotten around to putting that sign up. The bar is very much separated from the dining room and two very different moods reign over these environments – one private, dark and reserved and one a bit more social, lighter and vibrant. Coming from Boston, I’m an eat-at-the-bar gal, especially when it comes to something as comforting and casual as fried chicken. Plus I wanted to chat with the bartender a bit to find out more about the place and how to order here. It turned out to be pretty straightforward: get some chicken, get some sides to go with the chicken, get some sauces to dip the chicken into and get a donut to munch on as a sweet doughy side. We did just that.

15Unfortunately they were out of their Bourbon Butterscotch Bacon donut by nighttime, but we tried another one of Tiffany MacIsaac’s boozy glazed cake donuts, the Grapefruit Campari ($2.75). An intensely eggy, old fashioned fried dough with sour and bitter grapefruit zest mixed in, coated in a Campari glaze and sprinkled with pink sugar for an extra bit of color. Although the donut was a bit rigid from sitting out for a bit (it was, after all, 8 p.m.) I still thought it tasted pretty fresh, though very dense on the interior. The crusty, brittle glaze was nice and sweet with a very distinct bitterness as an aftertaste left by the Campari. This bitterness was picked up by the grapefruit zest in the dough, joining the Campari in bringing down the sweetness of the glaze to a manageable state. To me, a lover of sweet cocktails with a bitter finish, this donut really hit the spot. Just imagine a deep-fried Campari Sanguinea and tell me if that doesn’t make you sweat a little.

14 17Chocolate Cream Filled Brioche ($2.75). Fluffy, deliciously buttery brioche dough fried until golden brown and topped with a rich, smooth, slightly solidified milk chocolate ganache and some crunchy chocolate rice krispies for texture. The hollow ring of brioche is filled with a deliciously creamy chocolate pudding, slightly more bitter than the glaze and fluffier in texture. I am actually currently eating the half donut which I ended up taking home for breakfast, and I am proud to share that I did manage to hold myself back and wait 10 seconds for it to heat up. I’m glad I was strong enough to do so, because the heated up day-old is a million times more comforting and delicious than the stiffer version we had during dinnertime. I definitely recommend that fellow donut enthusiasts visit GBD during breakfast (opens at 8-11) or lunchtime (11-2) when they are still fresh-out-of-the-frier fuzzy and warm. Believe me, if they are still enjoyable at 8pm, they are sure to be magical in the morning. And they definitely do not hold back on creativity.

13The Tres Leches ($2.50) was an old fashioned cake donut whose dough was soaked in condensed, evaporated and whole milk, rubbed down with a bit of coconut icing and topped with toasted shredded coconut. Although a bit dry by the time we got to it (ironic, considering it was soaked in so many milks…), the flavor was nice and I could tell that back when it had just come out of the frier it was probably quite the crowd pleaser. The coconut glaze made the thing sinfully sticky and helped out the toasted coconut in giving the donut a distinctively coco-sweet flavor. I’ll need to get a super-fresh one of these (along with the bourbon butterscotch bacon badboy) one of these mornings.

Besides the artsy microbrews on tap that are served in tulip glasses and divided into “Drinking Beers,” “Donut Beers” and “Chicken Beers”, drink options also include a few select wines, among them a sparkling rosé on tap, a semi-dry Riesling, a Syrah and a Tempranillo. Beers and wines are offered in both regular and “taster” portions for around $3 so that, while waiting for their chicken, customers can try a few and select the one to go with for the meal. There’s also a punch-based cocktail menu, from which I ordered the Gin Punch ($6.00), made with Tuthilltown Half Moon Orchard gin (an all-American gin from New York, which incorporates apples into the flavor profile) and a bit of house-made muddled apple juice. Pretty good, refreshing, cutting some of the oil both in the chicken and the donuts, while breathing a bit of tart, apple brightness into both. There is also a Rum Punch made with Corsair spiced rum blended with pomegranate, orange and earl grey, a Bourbon Punch with Smooth Ambler Old Scout, grapefruit and ginger-sage honey, and a Vodka Punch with lavender-rose spirit, rhubarb syrup and lemon. They come in mason jars to keep things real and I’m sure they all complement the chicken equally well.

5The first side we ordered was one of the Warm Crème Fraîche Biscuits ($1), which are another one of MacIsaac’s creations. I’m ashamed to say that we actually forgot about this little guy, neglecting to notice it amongst all the other stuff going on in front of us (scroll down to: Sauces). We were both shocked at how well it maintained its texture, even after cooling down a bit. The biscuit was wonderfully airy and fluffy from the crème fraîche, crumbly towards the edges and a bit layered in the center, but not in rigid sheets densely packed together. Flavored minimally with salt and pepper, allowing the texture to shine. Clearly the product of a very lengthy process of trial and error which only someone with a history with baking (such as MacIsaac) can bear.

10One great side I suggest all visitors try out of the is the Bacon Scallion Potato Salad ($3.50). A sizable portion of creamy whipped potatoes with some zingy scallion and chunks of crispy, salty bacon mixed in. The potatoes are flavored with mustard and vinegar, I think, which add a delicious acidity that make the salad feel light as a feather, while it maintains a richness and buttery texture. Very far indeed from that mayonnaise-laden nasty stuff you kind of force yourself to eat at your cousin’s BBQ…

9Kohlrabi is a very underutilized Eastern European root vegetable and it gets me pretty excited to see it pop up on a menu every once in a while. Since raw kohlrabi is actually pretty similar in texture to cabbage but with a sweeter, milder flavor, it makes sense to chop it up and make it into a kohl-slaw (eh? ehhhh? ). That’s exactly what they’re doing over at GBD, serving up Kohlrabi Cole Slaw ($3.00), a mix of shredded cabbage, kohlrabi and celery, seasoned with onions, celery seeds and pepper with a dressing made with both cider and malt vinegar, along with a touch of mayo. The veggie shreds are thoroughly moistened through by the tangy dressing, but it does not get soggy in the least, maintaining a crunch while also becoming pleasantly slippery. The flavors are just right, with the acidity from the vinegar soothed by the mayo and the celery seeds adding a nice depth of flavor to surround but not overpower the natural sweetness of the veggies. The ratio of kohlrabi, celery and cabbage is just right as well, with the flavor coming mostly from the kohlrabi, with just a touch of that coarse, earthy tang from the celery and some extra volume from the cabbage.

8 7 3So, yes, the sides were all great. But what my roommate and I came for, after a long day of sunburning on our roofdeck, was the chicken. It is available By the Piece, By the Bucket, in a steamed bao with pickled veggies, or as wings with ranch or blue cheese. Although the woman next to me was clearly (loudly) enjoying her sticky, spicy looking buffalo wings, I opted for the Drumsticks ($2.50 a piece) and a Fried Chicken Bao ($4.25). The bao was sold out, unfortunately, so I replaced that with a (huge) Thigh ($3.50 a piece), which gave me more fried chicken to dip into the house-made sauces which GBD is also very proud of. The chicken was as great as the reviews had rumored them to be. The drumstick and thigh were clearly soaked deep in buttermilk before being coated and fried. The flesh was  white with a slight pink hue – dark meat after all – and juicy, incredibly moist… creamy almost. None of that dry, fibrous stuff I dread every time I am force-fed chicken (e.g. on a plane). And then, to offset this smooth, soft, tender flesh was the crunchy, tremendously comforting coating that the place gets its name after. Our bartender explained that their trick is to add a pinch of baking powder and a dash of cornstarch into the chicken coating, along with some secret stuff I couldn’t pull out of him. Apparently, the baking soda makes the outer covering intensely crispy, the kind of crispy that makes a loud, crackling noise when you bite into it. And the cornstarch keeps the chicken crispy for a longer period of time after frying. Awesome.

11And then, there were the sauces, nine all together. If you are patient enough to go through and try each one, I highly recommend getting the Saucetown, which is a $6 tasting of all of the GBD signatures. Creative takes on everyday favorites, these flavors made my experience all the more entertaining – they allowed me, in a way, to have nine different chicken dinners in one sitting. Starting from the bottom-right going up, the Frankenbutter (a buttered up version of Frank’s Hot Sauce) was thick and creamy, bringing me back to a much sought after buffalo chicken dinner I once had in a particularly American bar in Buenos Aires. That awesome heat from the cayenne soothed by the buttery texture, which left its mark after I swallowed it. A Frankenbutter bite was especially nice when followed immediately by a one coated in Blooch (blue cheese dip), creamy and tangy, cooling down the burn of the cayenne. I also liked that the Blooch had sort of a whipped, airy texture to it which made it a bit runnier than I was expecting, but lighter as well. I thought the Chipotle BBQ sauce, made with honey and adobo spices, was not particularly memorable and ended up overwhelming the chicken, though tangy and sweet on its own. General Satan’s Sauce (middle, bottom) was great, with chopped chilis (and their seeds) mixed into a slightly sweet, slightly sour creation flavored heavily with fish sauce. Definitely not for the fried chicken purist, but a very clever high-five at the Orient. The Honey Mustard was one of my favorites. It was made with Dark Clover honey, some very hot dijon and a bit of mayonnaise to give it a smooth, creamy texture. Next up, the Buttermilk Ranch which I did not care for, as it was far too watery (or, I should say, milky) and, despite the parmesan and herbs within, did not have a strong enough flavor to hold up to the chicken. The Jerk Sauce (left, bottom) was great too, a bit like apple pie filling with hot pepper instead of apples – all spice, clove, cinnamon and nutmeg were all present to give it a nice Caribbean/Christmas morning feel, with the heat of the pepper kicking it into a sort of crazy direction. The Tartar Sauce was good, made with mayo, paprika (for some color), tangy (almost fishy) capers and chunks of lemon flesh and rind. I thought the addition of such powerful pieces of lemon was a pretty balsy decision, which I respect, because it ended up giving the tartar sauce a unique bitter aftertaste which made the sweetness of the chicken’s flesh pop out even more in contrast.  Lastly but not leastly, the reddish orange Mumbo Sauce, which our bartender admitted was his personal favorite. I’ve heard multiple different stories about the origins of this sauce – that it’s a DC-transplant originally from Chicago, that it is an invention of Chinese restaurant in DC. I’m no expert and can offer no input on this particular debacle. I can, however, say that it’s awesome – somewhere between a tomato based BBQ and Chinese plum sauce – sweet, sour and spicy as the description aptly states. From the flavor, I could pick out ketchup, vinegar and a bit of hot sauce as well.

We weren’t really paying attention to price as we ordered because we were hungry and everything looked too good not to try. So, when the check came out we were shocked at how inexpensive the meal ended up being. That number definitely does not represent the quality at this place. Creative sauces and well-made sides, funky donuts and scrumptious fried chicken. I’m still not sure whether I should think of myself as being “in the South now,” but if so…. well, the South is okay.

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