One of the most recognizable dishes to come out of that pandemic-driven golden age of takeout dining rises again like a phoenix from ashes with the opening of Birdbox, the first fast-casual restaurant from the duo behind two Michelin-starred Birdsong. The chicken-focused restaurant begins serving fried chicken, cornbread, and coleslaw this week at 680 Second Street, about a block from Oracle Park.
And, of course, Claude the Claw — that incredibly photo-worthy sandwich served with a whole chicken foot straining out from between two sesame seeded buns — seems guaranteed to be the star. But the sandwich isn’t about the shock factor; it’s about transparency in sourcing, chef Chris Bleidorn explains. “To the folks that say, ‘I don't want to order a sandwich with a claw on, that’s gross or scary’ — what people should be concerned about are chickens without the claw,” he says. “Because then you don't really know what you’re getting.”
Bleidorn and partner Aarti Shetty explain the claw-on sandwich is intended to demonstrate that the chickens used at Birdbox are quality birds, all organic and free-range. The fact that they arrive at the restaurant with feet and heads attached signals they’ve been subjected to humane treatment, the owners say. They hope that if Claude sparks conversations, then those conversations touch on the value of demanding higher-quality poultry in more settings. “It’s going to be worth it,” Bleidorn says, referring to the extra effort the owners are investing in sourcing their poultry. “Hopefully, we start a new standard for chicken because the chicken industry is difficult, and you have to be careful.”
For now, the restaurant’s serving a limited menu for takeout only, but the plan is to expand hours and the menu in the coming weeks. Aside from the already-famous fried chicken sandwich — which, by the way, can be ordered with a chicken breast instead of the claw-on leg, if you prefer — the menu includes namesake Birdboxes, or a combo of either a quarter or half fried chicken served with cornbread and double fermented hot sauce. The chicken boxes include a choice of seasoning, and Bleidorn says it’s the unexpected options that set Birdbox apart from other fried chicken shacks. “That’s what separates us: our tangible flavor offerings,” he says. Diners can choose from Classic Yeast, Spicy Falcon, and sour cream and onion. And if you order a set of eight pieces of fried chicken, you’ll also have your choice of bird parts — drumettes, flats, or tenders — and sauces such as Raging Falcon, buffalo, and the restaurant’s version of ranch.
Sides include fries served with schmaltz made from the leftover bird parts, coleslaw, and salad. Plus there are desserts such as cheesecake pie, a Birdsong creation that involves baking cheesecake, letting it cool, then blending it up into a pudding-like texture that can be piped into puff pastry. For the kids and kids at heart, there’s shaved ice, both boozy and non-alcoholic versions. The flavors will rotate seasonally to feature fruit sourced from farmers markets. Plus, you’ll be able to pair your meal with beer or wine, including a number of canned options fit for the restaurant’s casual setting.
The space, designed in partnership with Studio SAINT (also behind Birdsong), seats 50 diners across two floors. It’s an airy building, originally built in the 1900s, encased in exposed brick and peppered with modern touches including midcentury-inspired globe light fixtures and a buzzy neon sign starring a pecking hen. The owners invested much time and attention into playful details like these, even designing custom takeout boxes dotted with tiny chicken footprints. “We don't want anybody to take it too seriously,” Shetty says. “At the end of the day, it's a chicken shop and we want people to feel that way.”
Bleidorn and Shetty say they hope to open more Birdbox locations across the Bay Area in the coming years, bringing pasture-raised birds cooked with intention to more communities. It’s a dream inspired in part by their latest adventure: becoming parents. They say they hope to see more options like Birdbox available to their daughter as she grows up. “I think we’re really going to see an increase of very well-run, flavorful, fast-casual restaurants,” Shetty says. “And I hope we’re a part of that.”