After recently celebrating five successful years of business and culinary adventure at Sparrow + Wolf, Brian Howard and his team at Spaghetti on the Wall Hospitality could be content, it would seem, to continue along their proven path. Instead, the ambitious organization is charting a new course with the upcoming opening of casual concept Half Bird along the same stretch of road in the city’s Chinatown district.
“After [Sparrow] I can do full-service [dining] in my sleep, but this one gives me a little discomfort like I’m opening a first restaurant again,” says Howard. “There’s all these things taking place that don’t happen at the other restaurant and there’s been learning curves for sure.”
Located at the corner of Spring Mountain and Wynn roads at the western tip of the bustling plaza that also contains the Golden Tiki, Pho Kim Long, Lee’s Sandwiches, Partage and others, Half Bird is a chicken joint, but one twisted to suit Howard’s style. There will be fried chicken, but rotisserie birds are the weapon of choice, pasture-raised, free-range poultry slow-cooked for maximum comfort-food vibes.
It’s expected to open in early August, and when it does, don’t expect similar environs as Sparrow + Wolf. The bright, orange-hued space definitely falls into the fast-casual category, and it looks and feels like a concept that can expand.
“We didn’t spare any expense, we wanted to build a brand right from the get-go,” he says. “We’re not reinventing the wheel by any means. These are tried-and-true classics. We’re just turning the dial a bit, the way we do, with flavor profiles, and raising the bar on quality. We’re trying to put a brand out there that’s a level up.”
Forget Nashville hot chicken. Half Bird will do Spring Mountain hot chicken with Szechuan peppers, pickled cucumbers and green curry ranch. The rotisserie method, inspired by Howard’s days opening Bouchon at Venetian and roasting dozens of birds daily, will yield wings, half bird or full bird meals with choices of seven house-made sauces (like sweet miso barbecue and yuzu hot honey) and a side of fries cooked under the chicken drippings, then smothered in rich gravy.
The team particularly enjoyed breaking down the idea of chicken nuggets until the result was “Holy sh*t, these are insane,” Howard says, and then his son Brix chimed in with orders to add mac and cheese to the menu. “I asked him if we had enough stuff for kids. He’s seven. I wasn’t gonna put it on the menu, but he said to do it with crispy Spam, so I was like, ‘Okay, go on.’ Then I’m going back and forth with a seven-year-old about types of cheeses.”
There were already plenty of challenges to tackle with the opening of a different style of restaurant when supply chain issues are still predominant. But the project has also endured an unimaginable loss with the sudden death of Anthony La Mantia, aka “Chef Tony,” on June 5 due to a heart condition. He worked with Howard for more than a decade and was the “right-hand man” on the Half Bird concept. He was only 37 years old.
“We had our morning meeting and everything was fine, and an hour and a half later, everything changed,” Howard says. “My first thought was I don’t even want to do it. He put his heart and soul into this, but you have to take all those good things from him and put them out there, and hopefully make him proud. He’ll live within this place every day, and everybody here understands how much work he put into it.”
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