If you’re only going to do one thing, then you’d better be good at it, like when you’re a bounty hunter, defense attorney, or competitive logroller. The same applies to restaurants with short menus, like Luella’s Gospel Bird in Wicker Park. This place focuses on one thing - making delicious fried and jerk chicken - and they do it very well.
If the name “Luella’s” sounds familiar, it might be because of Luella’s Southern Kitchen in Lincoln Square. It’s another very good restaurant from the same chef, and the two spots are similar: both are small counter-service BYOB places with ridiculously nice people working there. But while the original has a variety of Southern dishes, Luella’s Gospel Bird makes the ordering decisions for you.
You have four chicken options to choose from here, and they’re all delicious. There’s the buttermilk fried chicken (you get a wing, breast, leg, and thigh) whose every piece has perfectly crunchy, crispy skin. It’s served with honey on the side that complements the chicken so well, you’ll finally give a sh*t about the plight of the honeybee. Then there’s the Gospel, which is the same as the buttermilk, only topped with a tasty spicy remoulade. They also have the Gospel biscuit (chicken tenders on a biscuit topped with an egg) and a flavorful smoked jerk chicken that has a strong level of heat without requiring a warning label. Whatever you order, you can count on it to be cooked perfectly, and the white and dark meat will be equally juicy.
There are four sides, too, but those aren’t as consistent. The two standouts are the buttery biscuits and the sweet maple candied yams, which are a fantastic counterpoint to the salty-in-a-good-way chicken. The mac and cheese, however, is pretty bland, and the collards are relentlessly bitter (even for collards) and need some more acid to round things out. That said, excellent yams and biscuits coupled with the fantastic fried chicken are all you really need to have a great meal here, anyway.
Sometimes it’s nice when you don’t have to worry about making a bunch of decisions - just ask an NFL official or air traffic controller who had a bad day at work. At Luella’s, the few choices you have are all good ones. Your biggest concern will be what kind of beer or wine goes best with chicken.
Luella’s brines their chicken, which means it’s a little salty and, according to a magazine article we read at the dentist’s office, keeps the juices sealed in. The crispy, crunchy skin is well seasoned, and we are still confused as to how the white meat is as moist as the dark. It’s served with a jar of honey and a drizzler, which is not only cute but also balances out the salty meat.
This is identical to the buttermilk fried chicken, only instead of honey, it’s topped with a spicy remoulade known as gospel sauce. Get this when you want something with more heat and/or you have trouble letting go of ranch dressing.
This feels like a hangover brunch dish, but it’s just as satisfying as a post-long-day-at-work dinner. The fried chicken tenders are on top of a biscuit, covered with a fried egg and gospel sauce. Our only complaint is that the chicken can get a little soggy, but the solution is just to eat it fast. (Which you’ll want to do anyway.)
The one non-fried chicken option here is the smoked jerk chicken, which is also great. The jerk seasoning has enough spice to satisfy people who like heat, but not so much that you’ll run around shouting “woo woo” with cartoon steam coming out of your ears.
As long as you understand these are very sweet, the roasted yams are incredible. Each piece is a little bit caramelized, and the thick, sweet syrup isn’t overwhelming.
The biscuits are buttery and light without being too crumbly, and they’re just dense enough to hold up to the jam and gospel sauce. The jam isn’t very fruity, so we actually prefer dipping our biscuit in the yam syrup instead.
Texturally this is a very satisfying mac and cheese: it’s creamy, served in a little cast iron pot that keeps everything hot, and has little burned bits that are always welcome. We just wish the cheese itself had a stronger flavor.
We’re not fans of the collards here. They’re relentlessly bitter, without any acid to brighten them up.