I’m a simple man that enjoys simple pleasures. Near the top of that list is a fried chicken sandwich. Confession time: I enjoy chicken sandwiches in all of their forms. Elementary school mystery patty smashed between two slices of Wonder Bread? Sign me up. Spicy Chicken from Wendy’s? I’m already there. The classic chicken sandwich from Chick fil-A? They’ve had to serve me eviction notices before.
There’s been somewhat of a resurgence of fried chicken and its many variations recently in SLC. Viet Pham opened Prettybird, an homage of the various Nashville hot chicken shops. Justin Soelberg, formerly of Avenues Proper, opened Nomad Eatery in an off-the-beaten path location near the Salt Lake airport. And Scott Evans, of Pago, Finca, and Hub and Spoke, is opening a new restaurant in the 9th and 9th neighborhood named The Birdhouse, serving (you guessed it): prime rib. Just kidding. Chicken.
So chicken’s the new hotness in town. And while Prettybird does nothing but chicken, the fried chicken at Nomad is just one of various menu items. So, loyal readers, as your humble servant I took it upon myself to visit both locations and try their respective versions of the fried chicken sandwich, and I’d like to report back on how it went.
Short version: it went very, very well.
Long version: keep reading.
Let’s start with Prettybird. Prettybird benefits from being founded by local celebrity chef (and Iron Chef winner) Viet Pham, formerly of Forage. This guy knows food. It is fun seeing Chef Pham transition from “fine dining” at Forage to the somewhat lowbrow concept of a fried chicken shop. But there’s nothing lowbrow about Prettybird. The tiny shop on Regent Street is clad in all-white, lending an aura of cleanliness and levity. What the place lacks in interior seating it makes up for an even greater lack of exterior seating: the patio had two small tables that fit 4-6 people total. Everything you’ve heard about the long lines and depressing lack of seating is true. A victim of their own success I guess. Get there early and plan to take your food to-go.
Nomad is such a bizarre location, located near the Jet-N-Go or whatever the name of the airport parking lot is. But you know what? It works. There’s certainly an underserved market of workers near the airport, and it’s a close enough drive from downtown that makes it worth the journey. And what it lacks in a convenient location to downtown, it makes up for in a trendy, upbeat interior. And did I mention it’s big enough that paying customers can sit down and enjoy their food? What a concept.
So Prettybird wins in the “walking distance in downtown” category, and Nomad wins in the “you pay $11 for a sandwich, you should be able to sit down and enjoy it” category. I give the nod to Nomad because of all of the pleasures available in life, sitting is right up near the top.
On to the most important part: the chicken. Both locations offer super tender, moist chicken thighs as their base. Both versions are brined and breaded in their own spice blend, then fried. I don’t know if this is going to make any sense, but it does in my head, so here goes: Prettybird’s chicken is more crunchy, and Nomad’s is more shatteringly crispy. I really liked both, but preferred the crispyness of Nomad’s version. But you can’t go wrong with either, as they are both mind-numbingly excellent.
Prettybird’s version is topped with house-made pickles, cider slaw, and their Prettybird sauce. You can get it seasoned with your heat preference: everything from mild all of the way up to a version that will make you regret it the next day. Nomad’s sandwich is topped with mayo, shredded lettuce and zucchini pickles, and comes with a hot buffalo sauce, either smothered on the chicken or on the side. For those of you who prefer your food more on the mild side, like myself, I highly recommend getting it on the side.
Chicken winner: Nomad
There’s really not too much to this one. Nomad’s is a bit crustier and drier, while Prettybird’s is fluffier. Both have great chew and are strong enough to stand up to the massive chicken and toppings inside. But I like fluffy.
Hot Buns Contest winner: Prettybird
Sides are offered a la carte at both locations. At Prettybird you have a choice of cider slaw, a seasonal offering, and crinkle cut fries. I went with the fries, since the sandwich already comes with the slaw as a topping. Crinkle cut fries never cease to disappoint, no matter where I try them. I’m sure Prettybird puts a lot of effort into their fries, but whenever I have crinkle cuts I can never quite get over the bad nostalgia associated with sad, soggy elementary school crinkle cuts. Just say no to crinkle cuts. They just aren’t good.
Nomad offers a variety of sides, including wings, falafel croquettes, pickled and roasted beets, house-made salt and vinegar chips, and fries. I opted for the fries, which were well cooked and cut and fried fresh. I think next time I’ll check out the salt and vinegar chips.
Fry winner: Nomad.
In my not-so-scientific analysis, Nomad wins three of the four categories (although location could go either way depending on your dining preferences).
But look, you can’t go wrong with either of these spots, and they have quickly risen to two of my favorite spots to grab a bite in the city. I will happily recommend each, with a couple caveats. Prettybird: get ready for a line, sometimes they run out, and you have a 50% chance of getting a seat. If you’re with a group of 4 or more, forget about it. Nomad: it’s just a bizarre location, that’s all. But it works. If you’re looking for some super spicy, delicious chicken and aren’t with a larger group, I’d say go with Prettybird. If you’re with a group that may prefer a bit more menu options, go with Nomad. But like I said above, go to both. Make a day of it. Because they’re both fantastic and I’m so glad to see them doing well.