The chicken sandwich wars of the 21st century aren’t limited to fast food restaurant chains, Chef Charles d’Ablaing declared, touting his local lineup of comfort food classics and laying claim to serving the best spicy chicken sandwich in all of Kansas City.
“I did it as a special, just kind of, ‘Haha, funny,’” said d’Ablaing, chef and owner of Brookside Poultry Company, recalling his attempt to jump into the fried fray that keeps restaurants like Chick-Fil-A, Popeyes, and Kentucky Fried Chicken duking it out in ad campaigns well-seasoned with social media virality.
Now, the hand-pounded, marinated, chicken breast — served on a brioche bun and topped with red onions, gorgonzola, chili mayo, lettuce and tomato — is a regular sellout for the Brookside eatery, further establishing it among the metro’s most mouthwatering lunch spots and breading it in growth.
“We sell an absolute crap-ton,” d’Ablaing laughed. “This chicken breast has been pounded out and it’s the size of your head … it’s for people wanting something kind of different.”
And it’s a product of what Brookside Poultry was founded to do, and — as d’Ablaing points out — does best: putting a chef’s eye on fast casual food.
“It started when I was the executive chef at the Raphael Hotel [probably] 10 years ago,” he recalled, noting his Georgia roots play heavily into the gourmet genesis of the restaurant.
“A lady approached me from down south and she said, ‘You’re from Atlanta. You probably know how to make good fried chicken — I can’t find good fried chicken in this town,’” he laughed, adding he indeed held a stand-out recipe for sour cream-brined fried chicken and quickly added it to the Country Club Plaza hotel’s menu.
“It was our No. 2 bestseller in a couple of weeks at [roughly] 27 bucks a plate. I told staff members there that when I get older and tired of wearing [my] coat and doing this, I [would] open a fried chicken joint.”
They all laughed, but were quick to apply for hypothetical employment, d’Ablaing said. Now, many of them work for him at Brookside Poultry, serving up sour cream-fried chicken, spicy chicken sandwiches, wings, tenders, thighs and a lineup of Southern classics from fried green tomatoes to shrimp and grits and cheddar biscuits — made with ingredients sourced from local growers and farmers.
Click here to view the full Brookside Poultry menu or for details on holiday season poultry and pie orders.
“We have really great people that work here. It’s a fun environment and my kitchen is open [concept],” he said of the experience of owning and operating his own restaurant and ways he and its staff have worked to innovate fast casual dining.
“They all came from fine dining — at least 90 percent of them. [But what we’ve created means] you can come here and your kids can run around and tear the place up,” d’Ablaing said, adding his two children frequently do — and he loves it.
“That’s why I made the place. Parents can sit down and have really awesome service at a fast casual restaurant — and eat some really good food while their kids tear the joint up,” he laughed.
Relocation to the current space at 751 E. 63rd St. came after the restaurant found its niche and grew in popularity amid pandemic-era demand for its curbside food options. d’Ablaing hoped the move would help Brookside Poultry keep up with the steady stream of business.
“We saw a 20-percent increase [in sales] with COVID [shutting down dining rooms],” he explained, detailing the impact of curbside operations, which still account for more than 40 percent of the restaurant’s overall business, and ways the pandemic has changed the restaurant industry.
“We’re now in such a large space we can’t fill the restaurant,” d’Ablaing admitted, noting customers are readily returning, but curbside needs alone haven’t been able to support the larger space.
“This year, we’re down 60 grand or so. We’ve got 5,000 square feet to fill and we just haven’t been able to fill it.”
With the holiday season at its start and a mask mandate expiring in Jackson County, d’Ablaing is confident brighter days are hatching even as daylight gets shorter.
“This last month [sales have been] up and up and up. We’re getting comfortable again.”