Having lived in Knoxville for seven years (and being married to a West Tennessee girl), it goes without saying that I have a great appreciation for Southern food. True Southern chefs combine various methodology—a lot of frying, sure, but the unfettered use of butter and cheese is also very important—with unique regional ingredients to craft dishes that have influenced American cuisine like few others. And so my love of food from the Land of Dixie, coupled with its relative scarcity here in Las Vegas, raised my expectations for the arrival of Yardbird Southern Table & Bar at the Venetian.
With Yardbird’s second location—the original is in not-so-Southern Miami—Vegas gets a selection of dishes it’s unaccustomed to. For instance, there are fried green tomato BLTs ($14), a unique take on the classic sandwich. Thick, salty pork belly seated atop a fried green tomato slathered with house-made pimento cheese provides a not-so-healthy introduction to these iconic Southern fruits. The remarkable toasted peanut hummus that rescues a bland dish of Florida heirloom tomatoes ($16) could be a great dish by itself.
The South’s fascination with offal is showcased in rich chicken liver toast ($5). Slathered on thick grilled country bread with a sharp Fresno pepper relish, this is a fine representation of the less-embraced part of the fowl. The same ingredient reappears in the Dirty Little Farro ($10), where the ancient grain—similar to Israeli couscous—is surrounded with pork sausage and exquisitely melded with chicken liver mousse. The mineral-y mousse doesn’t overwhelm, and is a fine display of moderation for which Yardbird should be applauded.
But not everything succeeds. The sweet tea isn’t sweet—a crime punishable by death in a true Southern restaurant. And don’t bother with the St. Louis-style pork ribs ($32). Instead of falling off the bone, mine were so tough I could hardly hack my way through the meat.
Then there’s the perplexing case of the delicious chicken. Yardbird is rather proud of its fried chicken, as there are four different preparations on the menu, including Chicken ’n’ Watermelon ’n’ Waffles ($36) and Mama’s Chicken Biscuits ($14). The former is served with utterly addictive spiced watermelon and savory, cheese-laden waffles, while the latter arrives slicked with pepper jelly. Brined for 27 hours, the chicken is infused with more flavor than your standard fast-food rendition. But across a series of tastings, the skin—the most important part—varied substantially in crispness and was never quite crisp enough. It’s still probably better than any other fried chicken in town, but I can only hope that with time, the kitchen will find more consistency.
If the Confederacy had won the War of Northern Aggression, there’d probably be a lot more Southern food to go around. But whether or not you believe the South will rise again, you’re bound to find something of interest on Yardbird’s intriguing, satisfying menu.
Yardbird Southern Table & Bar Venetian, 702-287-6541. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight; Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.