Miami-based Yardbird Southern Table & Bar is finally ready to make its DC debut on April 1. The restaurant, whose famed fried chicken has earned James Beard nods and lines out the door at the South Beach flagship, takes over the former Acadiana space in Mt. Vernon Triangle. It will be the sixth Yardbird globally, and first in the Mid-Atlantic, joining locations in Dallas, Los Angeles, and Singapore.
Founder John Kunkel, a Georgia native whose grandmother Lewellyn is responsible for the 27-hour brined fried chicken recipe, opened the original Yardbird a decade ago. At the time, cheffy Southern fare was on the cusp of becoming the trendy cuisine du jour, riding in on a wave of dishcloth napkins and mason jar cocktails. “There was a restaurant called Buttermilk Channel in Williamsburg,” says Kunkel. “I remember thinking, if they’re doing Southern food in Brooklyn now, clearly there’s a trend.” He was somewhat skeptical about the Miami crowd: “You’re in the land of sushi and Red Bull vodkas, no one’s going to eat that stuff.” But they did, and do.
Though Yardbird is known for over-the-top dishes like fried green tomato BLTs with house-smoked pork belly, whole-lobster mac n’ cheese, and bourbon-bacon chocolate cake, the menus—specific to each location—are wide-ranging. “We’ve used the American South as a canvass, and each of the restaurants embrace their own region,” says Kunkel. In addition to the aforementioned signatures, DC diners will find ten to fifteen new dishes between lunch, brunch, and dinner such as Wagyu beef carpaccio, crispy soft-shell crabs in season with Berkshire pork confit, heirloom tomatoes, and Old Bay aioli, or a local Elysian Farm lamb shank with homemade pasta and spring vegetable ragu.
Opening in a pandemic brings its own changes and challenges. The corner restaurant space, surrounded by large patios on both sides, will activate in conjunction with DC Covid regulations. The restaurant is designed by Rockwell Group, the company behind scene-y spaces like Jaleo Las Vegas and Nobu New York, and channels a (very svelte) Southern home with plenty of leather and brass. A large oval-shaped bar will eventually be the place to perch and sip an extensive selection of bourbons and whiskeys, while two private dining rooms are ready to host events when events return. In the meantime, diners can sit indoors, outside on the patio—primed for spring brunching—or order takeout and delivery. In addition to the a la carte menu, Yardbird will offer family-style meals to-go such as whole rotisserie chickens or crispy birds and sides. In the pandemic, with nearly all locations temporarily closed save for Miami, Kunkel says the group spent time tweaking dishes and packaging for a now-robust takeout and national delivery (via Goldbelly) program.
“A lot of the dishes travel well—they’re the ultimate picnic foods,” says Kunkel.
Yardbird Southern Table & Bar. 901 New York Ave., NW.
*This post has been updated from an earlier version.