Rarely do I get excited about fried chicken. There are plenty of chains that can provide one’s fix for cheap, tolerable poultry, yet I’ve always felt that there is a lack of establishments that bring a unique perspective to the tried and true comfort food.
For decades, Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles has dominated the Pasadena fried chicken-scape, and newcomers Howlin’ Rays in Chinatown have elicited long waits for some tasty southern-style sandwiches. However, for the fried chicken enthusiast there is little to be offered aside from the occasional trip to your local Chick-Fil-A .
Enter The Crack Shack, a collaboration between CEO Michael Rosen and Chef Richard Blaise of Top Chef fame. With locations dotting the west-side in LA and San Diego, it was about time that they brought their signature flavors to Old Town Pasadena.
The space, a former recording studio, almost lends itself too well to the hip atmosphere. With hangar-style wooden beams, exposed red brick walls, and sleek, modern seating, the combination of natural lighting and eclectic decor give the spot a chic yet welcoming appeal.
But the obvious feature is the menu.
With an impressive roster to bolster these poultry aficionados’ recipes, one may find both the bold and the familiar melded into one.
For those who are wanting to try something new, look no further than the spicy Chicken Oysters, little morsels of chicken deep fried and tossed in a southwestern inspired toro sauce and garnished with Mexican pickled carrots, jalapeños and cilantro. The serious burst of tang and right amount of heat really made these a personal highlight, and I know Chef Blais shares a similar sentiment saying “This is my heart when it comes to our menu”.
Another great addition to the menu are the Deviled Eggs. Being a total stickler when it comes to my deviled eggs, these ones in particular gave me that warm feeling of creamy, crunchy bliss that you get from the right combination of spices and textures. Normally, bacon overpowers the other flavors present, but the inclusion of french toast crumbles balances out the ensemble and packs a pleasant surprise for the palette with a simple recipe.
Here’s where, in this writer’s opinion, The Crack Shack really shines. One can see the amount of detail put into these well crafted sandwiches, with a variety of culinary influences.
To begin with, the Coop Deville’s looks can be deceiving. On the surface it looks like a typical Southern style chicken sandwich, but what sets this apart are, again, the simple yet surprising components. Pickled Fresno chilies, napa cabbage, and lime mayo fuse together in a sandwich that pulls ingredients from several regions.
On to what Chef Blais calls “probably our most popular sandwich on the menu,” The Firebird is their version of a Nashville style hot chicken sandwich. Having some pretty high tolerance for spice, I’d say this sandwich packs a decent amount of heat. Not too much to alienate someone with a lower tolerance but just enough to keep those looking for a kick satisfied. “I would say on a scale of 1-10 for the heat, I’d give this a 7.7,” says Blais. Personally I’d give it a 5.5 on the heat scale, but a solid 9 on the flavor scale.
Finally, my personal favorite sandwich and what I (hopefully) project to be a local favorite, the Chicken Pastrami sandwich, an exclusive item on the menu for the Pasadena location. Having flown in from Syracuse himself that day, Chef Blais explains, “A lot of our team are ex-New Yorkers so we have this passion for really great New York deli foods. This is our version of a pastrami rueben sandwich but with chicken with a dijon russian dressing.” Immediately the first thing that stood out to me was the sturdy, crunchy marbled rye that held together this massively flavorful sandwich. The right combination of pastrami, chicken creamed onions, kraut, Emmentaler Cheese and Pickle-naise made this a flavor overload in the best possible way.
There’s a lot that can be said about The Crack Shack’s dedication to their chicken. With their “locally raised, free-living chickens without a care or antibiotic in them” and signature “Crack Spice” this is most definitely the best fried chicken you can get without breaking the bank.
Be sure NOT to overlook their cookies, both the birthday cake and chocolate chip cookies absolutely exceeded expectations and are not to be missed by any means.
Overall, with a great location, welcoming atmosphere, inspired recipes, and a passionate staff, this is a must try for anyone in the area.
The Crack Shack opens Monday, November 12 and is located on 30 W Green Street in Pasadena.