A new quick-service restaurant from the team behind Sababa is touching down in San Francisco, focused on fried chicken sandwiches in styles from all over the globe. Flybird, as it’s called, could open as soon as next week at 35 Kearny Street, right at the corner of pedestrian alley Maiden Lane.
Guy Eshel, the chef behind Sababa’s popular duo of fast-casual Mediterranean restaurants, is launching Flybird with partner Jay Roberts, a fellow alum of now-closed restaurant AQ. It’s from the same group of investors as Sababa, but a different business entity, Eshel clarifies.
If the Popeye’s chicken sandwich craze is any sort of weathervane, fried chicken sandwiches generally are experiencing a huge cultural moment. “They’re peaking and we couldn’t have timed this better,” says Eshel, who has been working behind the scenes on Flybird for more than a year. “Five years ago it was the ‘better burger’ [trend], and the next wave has been fried chicken.”
But rather than pointing to its current popularity, the chef emphasizes fried chicken’s enduring appeal. Growing up in Israel, Eshel ate lots of chicken schnitzel — and “almost every culture has their version of a schnitzel, whether you call it a milanese or a katsu,” he argues. “I just wanted to highlight the different ways to do it.”
Flybird’s main offering, a “classic” chicken sandwich ($12), will be made with Springer Mountain Farms chicken, topped with homemade bread and butter pickles and ranch slaw on a Boudin Bakery bun. A spicy version will be glazed with buffalo sauce and fried again with the addition of “first class sauce,” a take on southern-style comeback sauce. That “first class sauce” name is one of many nods to Flybird’s general theme: The heyday of aviation. The store will feature decor like TWA posters and vintage wooden propellers, for example.
More chicken options for would-be international travelers include a “Seoul Food ”option with “asian slaw,” pickled daikon, shiso, sesame mayo, and gochujang pepper sauce, and a “Provencal” version with sautéed peppers and onions, arugula, chevre, herbes de provence, and roasted garlic aioli. Customers can also substitute a fried sweet potato for chicken. And a menu of salads — Greek, Cesar, and more — rounds out the menu, with the option to add fried chicken to those, too.
While not as intense as the battles between mega chains like Popeyes and Chick-fil-A, San Francisco’s own fried chicken wars are heating up. Super Duper-owned offering, the Bird, now has two locations to its name; a Nashville hot chicken pop-up called Hotbird is drawing massive crowds to its roaming food stall appearances; and another Nashville-inspired spot, World Famous HotBoys, is on the way to Uptown Oakland.
Can Flybird stand out from flock with its international options? When it arrives, the restaurant will offer lunch and dinner to start, with a beer and wine license in the works. Breakfast sandwiches, like bacon egg and cheese and perhaps fried chicken with gravy, are around the corner, too.