Certain foods, when done right, can facilitate religious experiences. Fried chicken is one of those foods. So I jumped at the chance to review one of Old Pasadena’s most recent additions, Daddy’s Chicken Shack.
A Houston native, co-owner and co-founder Pace Webb first made a splash in the Los Angeles culinary business with her fine-dining catering company, Taste of Pace. What began as a one-time request for sliders by a client, turned into a joke with her father: to set him up for retirement with a chicken shack called Daddy’s. After meeting now-spouse, Chris Georgalas, the idea began to gain traction. Last January the couple debuted Daddy’s as a pop-up restaurant at Smorgasburg, a weekly open-air food market in DTLA. By the end of the year they had secured a permanent brick-and-mortar location and given birth to their first child.
“I still get a little emotional thinking about it because it was such a special time to, like, birth this business and the baby,” said Webb, wiping tears from her eyes. “I step back sometimes and I’m like, ‘holy crap, I can’t believe we did this and we created this.’”
Webb, in the midst of pregnancy, developed the entire menu, hired and trained staff on all recipes, and continues to oversee recipe growth. She describes herself as the “grumpy chef,” while Georgalas contributes his hospitality to front of house work.
Upon first glance, the place doesn’t seem like much. It’s tucked away, just off Fair Oaks Ave. A tiny, cramped storefront, there are 5 seats total, a walk-up counter, and a visible entrance to the larger kitchen area, separated by a shower curtain. The exposed brick in the back gives off just enough recycled warehouse feel to solidify it’s hipster appeal, if the singular cheesy mural of a rooster with shades and a goatee doesn’t do the trick.
Sarcasm aside, the chicken is damn good. The menu is brief. Customers have the option of chicken sandwiches or sliders, as well as popcorn chicken, with cauliflower-based vegan alternatives, as well. There is only one salad option and only one rice bowl.
“Our model is to keep things really simple. The menu should be really small,” said Webb. “Be really, really good at the things that we do.”
All in all, entrée items range from $8-13.50, and fries cost an additional $4. The prices feel steep, but unfortunately standard in the scheme of hip L.A. sandwich spots. Webb points to the hormone-free, antibiotic-free, free-range chicken and the use of locally-milled grain in the vegan brioche bread as an indication of quality.
“I think it’s just, like, comfort food done really well. Fried chicken’s pretty simple, but it’s at another level here,” said Spencer Swensrude, a return customer. “I really like the little fried chicken sliders and I get them spicy.”
Combine those “3 little Daddy’s” into one bigger item and you get a Spicy Daddy. It’s a buttermilk-brined fried chicken sandwich topped with vinegar-ladened napa cabbage slaw and cilantro. The kicker is the sauce: freshly grated ginger mayo that is so bright and balanced, I’d be lying to say I haven’t imagined myself in a bathtub full of it. The chicken is expertly fried: tender, crunchy, with a gentle greasiness that is tempered by the acidity and spiciness of the slaw/mayo combination. It’s a juicy portion, but not too much for one person to handle.
For good measure I tried the vegan, gluten-free Daddy Nuggets. The cauliflower is brined in salted curried coconut milk, treated like a piece of meat. They’re fried and topped with fresh cilantro, mint, and lime peanuts, 3 additions that I always welcome warmly into my food. Fried cauliflower as a mock chicken is always a bit bizarre to me. It comes off a bit too tough, almost undercooked, especially in comparison to such tender chicken. Still, the palatably complex coconut brine is excellent.
“I would definitely say the Diet Daddy Bowl [is my favorite],” said Vida Sotakoun, the Front of House Manager. “Shiitake mushrooms in that are absolutely amazing. They’re just so fresh and simple and the mixture with the forbidden rice—amazing!”
Fries come in two varieties, regular and salty, paprika-dusted sweet potato. The answer seemed clear to me, although I always tend toward the wordier option. The sweet potato fries were flavorful and crispy. So crispy, in fact, that they verged on burnt, although I would tip the scale toward mildly burnt over soggy any day. Fries are an art, as well, and reliable crunch is the name of the game.
Despite a few ice cream options, I succumbed to the Salted Miso Chocolate Chip cookie on display in a jar on the counter. They’re thick and soft-baked to perfection, topped with the scattering of rock salt necessary to any mouth-watering chocolate chip cookie. Webb described the addition of miso to this item as keeping on brand, the “classic American thing with a little bit of Asian.”
Webb, whose culinary training is mainly in Italian cuisine, describes her background as a “mutt mix” of Anglo-European heritage but, as she puts it, “nothing spicy.” This bizarre relationship to food and culture does come through in restaurant choices. For starters, white girl making fried chicken.
Webb also broadly describes the ingredients as “Asian fusion.” The display on the counter, for decoration, is a preview of some of the components of the food. Rows of Viet Huong fish sauce and Sriracha, both with Vietnamese cultural origins, are the bulk of the display. The “Our Story” board on the wall reads:
“The underlying theme of the cuisine at Daddy’s is American Southern with a hint of Asian to showcase the duo’s heritages.”
Georgalas is half-Japanese. In relation to Southeast Asia, Japan is pretty far. So the heavy influence of Southeast Asian components attributed to his heritage feels like a convenient stretch, one that calls more attention to the appropriative nature of this menu, designed by a white lady from the South.
“I’ve been to Thailand and love love love loved it,” said Webb. “But I wouldn’t say that I’m super well-versed in Southeast Asian cuisine, so it’s kind of forced me to expand my knowledge a little bit of Southeast Asian flavors that are just incredible.”
Fusion in general always has a bit of a questionable edge, but feels especially controversial when it’s relatively unattributed. A white girl capitalizing on another culture’s complex flavors and then lumping them into some Pan-Asian flavor profile adds a bit of insult to injury.
Still, the food tasted good and the restaurant seems to already have a pretty solid customer base. The duo has hopes to expand toward delivery-based restaurant work, in hipster hubs around the country. For now, Daddy’s is offering free regular fries or a soda with first purchase to entice students to come to the Pasadena location.
Open 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday 11 W Dayton St, Pasadena, CA 91105