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Food Review: Mean Bird Pulls Off the Rare Feat of Pleasing Both Meat Lovers and Vegetarians

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No one has ever helped me to find the perfect wine to go with Cheetos — until I walked into Mean Bird. The food-truck-turned-takeout spot is also a corner store that offers wine and beer — with pairing suggestions. Drink Beaujolais with rack of lamb? Thanks to Mean Bird's cheeky wine descriptions, I now know that it goes better with Kit-Kats and fried chicken.

And speaking of fried chicken, let's start with the star of the show. Dry-rubbed in secret seasoning, the chicken arrives hot and juicy, with salty, crackling skin — it's everything you want fried chicken to be. Order one of Mean Bird's dipping sauces on the side — I recommend the habanero Buffalo, which adds a nice heat without the long burn. Or you can leave your bird naked. Either way, it's satisfying.

For this and other dishes, Mean Bird has five options, depending on how many pieces you want, with prices from $8 to $36.

The boneless chicken is also spiced and fried to a lovely golden brown. But — and this is a big but — I get cartilage in every single piece that I try. It's a shame — otherwise, the chicken is delicious.

This also happens with the hot chick sandwich ($10), which is a monster of a meal. Boneless fried chicken, with a touch of habanero sauce, comes piled high with an apple and green-goddess dressing slaw. But the sandwich just doesn't work for me — the heat of the sauce can't compete with the sweetness of the slaw.

Everyone is welcome here, including vegans. In fact, vegan fried chicken put Mean Bird on the map. It's ($8-$36) a mélange of vegetables and grains that's deep fried in its own fryer. It's a tasty dish, but nothing at all like chicken, so don't expect a meat substitute. Nor is it advertised as such. What you will get is something that reminds me of a very large falafel, chock full of flavor and bursting with carrots.

If the sticky wings ($12) are the special of the day, I suggest you order them. They arrive lightly breaded, fried and coated in a slightly sweet, sticky, tangy sauce and topped with sesame seeds. The wings are so crisp and plump, I understand why they were sold out the first time I tried to order them.

And don't forget the sides. Cajun fries ($4/$8) are spicy, with a little burn from the Cajun seasoning. Brussels sprouts ($6/$12) arrive in a vinegar-citrus dressing, and while enjoyable, the sauce mitigates their promised crispiness. Looking for a little comfort food, I find the seasonal mac 'n' cheese ($6/$12) delightfully gooey and creamy. Topped with toasted breadcrumbs, each bite is full of melty cheese and pasta just this side of al dente.

I love a good bowl of greens ($4/$8), so it pains me to say that Mean Bird's collards miss the mark. It makes for an overpoweringly sweet dish, and for the first time I can ever remember, I don't drink the broth. The collards are vegan — and I appreciate the inclusiveness — but I really miss the porky lusciousness that only a ham hock can bring.

If you're in a hurry and can order only one thing, make it the sweet pea hush puppies ($4/$8). Deep brown and crunchy on the outside with a fluffy interior, they're drizzled with maple syrup and hit all the salty and sweet notes. I pick up a bottle of spicy honey and decide to see how they play together. Really, really well is the answer. I sit in silence for a good two minutes filled with the joy that this hot, crisp and soft mixture has come into my life.

Whether you take it to go or hunker down at one of its four barstools, Mean Bird is worth visiting. Especially if you need to figure out which wine to go with your Cheetos. S

Mean Bird
Mondays-Thursdays 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Fridays 11 a.m.-2:30 a.m.;
Saturdays 5 p.m.-2:30 a.m.;
Sundays 5-10:30 p.m.
2227 W. Main St.
447-7787
meanbirdrva.com

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