It’s some of Sydney’s crunchiest fried chicken, modelled after the Popeye’s chicken chain in America. And with its second Sydney location opening a couple of weeks ago, it’s ready to deafen the inner west.
Thirsty Bird has been making its extra-crisp fried chicken at its Potts Point takeaway store for a little over two years, delivery scooters idling nearby day and night ready to send chicken burgers and three-piece chicken packs out to the surrounding suburbs.
With its new full-size restaurant in the old Salmon and Bear site on Newtown’s King Street, Thirsty Bird is now available to a whole new set of Uber Eats delivery postcodes. The opening is the brand’s first dine-in venue, complete with a tight selection of frosty tinnies.
Owners Sam Horowitz and Carlos Justo, who met on the pots and pans at Walsh Bay’s The Wharf Restaurant, and whose pork-and-crackling roll institution Mr Crackles on Oxford Street inaugurated the chefs into the world of late-night takeaway food, say opening a diner in Newtown is the fulfilment of a long-held dream.
“Before we even opened the first Thirsty Bird we were looking along this strip for somewhere to put Mr Crackles,” Justo tells Broadsheet. “We like Newtown. We finally got in. It was about waiting for the right place.”
“Newtown still has foot traffic,” Horowitz adds. “Other suburbs don’t have foot traffic anymore. We also did research with Deliveroo and Uber and they said Newtown was the biggest suburb after Potts Point for orders.”
The Newtown menu features the same broad mix of chicken burgers that put the Potts Point store on the map. There’s the Japanese-inspired Katsu Burger with crumbed chicken, cabbage and mayo; the Big Kahuna, with fried chicken, grilled pineapple, bacon, cheese and special sauce; and the creators’ favourite, the Thirsty Sanchez.
“It’s got a kick,” Justo says of the burger, which is loaded with fried chicken, jalapeño salsa and chipotle mayonnaise. “But at the same time it’s really fresh.”
Thirsty Bird’s signature chicken is also available as bone-in pieces, both in original and spicy variants, and there’s a wealth of sides and sauces. Snack on house-made waffle fries; tater tots loaded with bacon, cheese and gravy; and a traditional French-style mash (with gravy of course) made with plenty of butter.
Mixed pickles and coleslaw are prepared fresh in the kitchen, the latter made to Horowitz’s mother’s family recipe (“It’s got lots of vinegar in it so it really cuts through the chicken”).
And while the quality of the sides hints strongly at Justo and Horowitz’s restaurant-backed experience, it’s the chicken that’s the main event here. Brined, air-dried for 24 hours, then coated with a (secret) seasoned-flour mix, submerged in buttermilk and then floured again, the pieces are fried in filtered oil until those golden strands of crunch appear across the entire surface.
“Our two criteria were that it had to be juicy, and it had to be so crunchy that it almost deafens you,” Justo says.
“I love the crunch of Popeye’s chicken,” Horowitz adds. “Everyone’s so passionate about it in America. In general, though, their chicken is over-fried and the brine doesn’t go all the way through, so I think we’ve improved it.”
Getting the chicken right for Uber Eats, Deliveroo, etc. was part of the chicken-perfecting challenge too. The pair ran tests on their signature menu items to ensure they stood up to the complexities of home delivery.
“We’d make it, leave it for an hour, and see if it was still good,” Justo says.
“It’s still great getting it delivered at home in a bag,” Horowitz adds, “but it’s best eaten in the shop. With a beer.”
Thirsty Bird Newtown
226 King Street, Newtown