In a unique coincidence or a conspiracy to flood Pasadena with fried chicken-centric eateries perpetrated by fried chicken lobbyists, November saw the opening of two new fried chicken spots in Old Pasadena: Crack Shack and Daddy’s Chicken Shack.
The two spots sit closer than a block away from each other and feature fried chicken as the centerpiece of their menus. Fortunately, both businesses offer experiences and menus that are distinct and diverse.
The question is not which is best, but what vibe you are going for.
First, Daddy’s is owned and run by expectant parents Head Chef Pace Webb and Chris Georgalas. Webb, a classically trained chef and founder of Taste of Pace, a fine-dining catering company, was asked to go off menu with sliders and tacos for a last-minute event and put her take on a fried chicken sandwich. When celebrities at the event raved about her creation, she knew she had to do something more with it.
After a pop-up in the LA Arts District last year serving over 2,000 customers, the couple received an invitation to participate in Smorgasburg, a weekly food festival in downtown LA that draws more than 10,000 visitors weekly. After 10 months dialing in their new comfort-food stylings, they stumbled onto their Old Pasadena location where they fell in love with the small-town vibe. The expectant parents opened Daddy’s on Nov. 1 — Webb two weeks from her due date, running the kitchen and welcoming customers.
Crack Shack, on the other hand, is now in its fifth location, the other four scattered throughout Southern California, with a future expansion headed for Las Vegas.
Crack Shack garners its own Hollywood and culinary street-cred with Chef Richard Blais as its “Culinary Team Coach.” Blais is notable for his win of Top-Chef All Stars in 2011 and his numerous appearances as a judge in other food competitions. Michael Rosen, CEO of Crack Shack, spent most of his career managing hedge funds but delved into the world of restaurants five years ago when he and Blais opened Juniper & Ivy, a fine dining restaurant in the Little Italy district of San Diego. The two branched into more casual fare over their love of fried chicken and breakfast for dinner.
The two restaurants’ menus exemplify their differences: Daddy’s features a minimalistic menu, displayed on poster-sized chalkboards behind the walk-up counter. Crack Shack has a menu with more than 50 menu items that covers an entire wall of their restaurant.
The heart of Daddy’s menu is the Big Daddy ($12) buttermilk fried chicken, with a Napa slaw and Sriracha mayo on a brioche bun. It works as a heightened version of comfort food, with well-seasoned chicken it does not rely on the breading for its flavor profile. The titular Big Daddy is the original concept that garnered celebrity attention, and to honor its origin as a slider it is available in its original incarnation called 3 Little Daddys ($13).
Amazingly, Chef Georgalas spared room on the well-crafted — albeit modest — menu for two mind-blowingly good vegan options. The Vegan Daddy ($13) is a sesame bun filled with coconut curry brined cauliflower, napa slaw, samal vegan mayo, cilantro, mint, and lime peanuts. The cauliflower, served piping hot in the sandwich, pairs well with the kicks from the mint, and cilantro and slight curry spice. The Vegan Daddy Nuggets are available sans bread in shareable form as the Vegan Daddy Nuggets ($9); they make a great appetizer for vegans and carnivores alike.
Crack Shack’s menu runs far deeper, operating on one core philosophy: not all chicken is created equal. This ideal leads then to use antibiotic free jidori chicken and free range eggs.
All orders of chicken come with a small notice to customers about the more natural coloring of jidori chicken. By definition, jidori is not pumped with artificial dyes to appear more golden so some pieces may appear slightly undercooked or less golden than consumers are accustomed to.
Crack Shack’s name is a play on their “crack” spice: a confidential blend that they say gives their cuisine a “je ne sais squawk.”
The Crack Shack menu goes everywhere from traditional comfort food (Deviled Eggs ($4) and Mexican poutine fries ($9) made with Cheese-Wiz, pico de gallo and pollo asado) to healthier and guilt-free options. Like the Miso Healthy ($9) a bowl made with arugula, cabbage, sesame seeds, miso ginger vinegar, pickled cucumber, crunchy rice noodles and pineapple.
Crack’s chicken is available in sandwiches, bowls and as five-piece ($15) or 10-piece ($29) orders.
Daddy’s interior is large enough for a few people in line to order and maybe three people to sit inside comfortably. Most of the other seating options are small, wooden patio tables and chairs that seat two, but can be easily moved around. There’s a small courtyard of an office building feet away that Daddy’s is able to use for more spacious outdoor seating. The experience at Daddy’s is intimate, exuding a family vibe and the small-town feeling that drew Webb and Georgalas to Pasadena.
As one might expect, Crack Shack is a much larger operation. It resides in the former Firehouse recording studio on Green Street. It is more than 6,000 square feet of space and features a walk-up counter for food orders and a full-bar at the back of the restaurant for beer wine and So-Cal inspired cocktails. There is a small children’s play area in one corner. A farmhouse aesthetic impressively runs through nearly every detail of the building with reclaimed wood and metal furniture. The farmhouse tables each topped with their own roll of paper towels, with a large porcelain sink along one of the walls so that you do not miss any one of the games playing on the multitude of screens throughout the restaurant.
Crack Shack is big and social and its late night hours reflect its social atmosphere. It’s the perfect place to catch a game, just casual enough you can hang out for a while and just enough small bites for your table to eat throughout the game. That’s how I enjoyed the USC/UCLA game without the stress of parking at the Rose Bowl.
Daddy’s is a place for a more intimate and chill Sunday lunch. It’s a place where families can talk without having to yell over the game and the clatter of a packed room. It’s ideal for a quiet lunch on-the-go or a relaxing meal on a patio.
Comparing Daddy’s Chicken Shack to Crack Shack is not a fair fight.
Daddy’s Chicken Shack, operated by an entrepreneurial couple expecting their first-born, and Crack Shack, owned by a finance guy and championed by a TV star, are not on equal footing, and do not purport to be.
The bottom-line is both new places offer experiences and food that are well worth checking out.