For fans of all things chicken, the wait was finally over last month when The Crack Shack opened in Costa Mesa. The much anticipated chicken eatery comes to Orange County thanks to restaurateur Michael Rosen and Chef Richard Blais, of Top Chef fame. With already established locations in San Diego and Encitas, the O.C. spot on 17th Street becomes the third installment with a fourth one expected to open in Century City this spring.
At The Crack Shack, the emphasis is on elevating chicken and the egg as a culinary treat. The concept being that chicken which is often thought of as ordinary and boring can be everything but that. This is evident in the thoughtful use of herbs and spices in the deliciously juicy and tender fried chicken dishes, sandwiches and sides as well as the commitment to using locally raised, free-living chickens without antibiotics. Deviled eggs are addicting with french toast crumble and candied bacon and the Matzo ball pozole is a creative and masterful balance of flavors in a hearty bowl of broth, braised chicken, lime, schmaltz and fixins’. But whatever you do, try the fried chicken.
“There’s no reason a $12 chicken sandwich can’t be treated like a $90 roast chicken.” – Chef Richard Blais
After ordering at the outdoor counter, customers enter a bright and open space made warm and inviting with casual banquette seating, communal tables, and a live vertical garden that overlooks a cornhole game. A full bar to the left immediately evokes a feeling of liveliness to the room. Along with the quirky messaging and amusing chicken imagery throughout, the atmosphere is casual, unpretentious and welcomes you with a sense of humor. The Crack Shack is proof that refined food prepared in a sophisticated manner can be presented and consumed in an informal way and still be equally if not more enjoyable. It also makes clear the point that it’s okay to eat fine chicken and goof off a little. How can you not when the largest chicken you’ve ever seen in your life is the first to greet you at the door. The Crack Shack – 196 E 17th St, Costa Mesa, (949) 383-5040, crackshack.com
When a staid Chase bank branch converts to slick, hip outlet No. 3 for a “Top Chef” enterprise, it’s proof that fried chicken is the high-flying concept of the moment. Toque about town Richard Blais fronts Crack Shack, a San Diego-based, fast-casual joint rigged to supply hot, crispy chicken feasts and cool cocktails in high volume. Beneath a savory crust is flavorful free-range chicken raised locally without antibiotics. Non-GMO eggs, too, so look for The Royale breakfast stack of bold chicken sausage, organic sunny-side egg, and smoked cheddar on a house-made English muffin. Steamy matzo ball pozole rates high on the pecking order for cold nights. Or build a meal from chicken pieces, trendy salads, and irresistible mini-biscuits with miso-maple butter. The kids meal includes a cookie du jour, but ice cream junkies will go straight for the soft-serve. With a retractable roof and furniture made from barn doors, the Costa Mesa outpost fits the 17th Street vibe. —GRETCHEN KURZ (Orange Coast, January 2018)