Barnaby Monk 5 a.m., Sept. 17
As so often happens, I got a ringing endorsement of Urban Chicken from a friend, which probably went along the lines of, "dude, have you tried that chicken place in Golden Hill?" This is how I select restaurants, for better or for worse.
After a little searching, I found the restaurant. It's very unassuming on the outside in its little, brick building with a city skyline painted along the eaves and the sign where the word "chicken" quickly faded away so that the sign seems to proclaim the place is simply "urban."
I found seats for maybe fifteen people inside and it was quiet when I went in at first, but business quickly picked up. It looks like Urban Chicken is a fairly dependable lunch spot for neighborhood types and the minimal, but very friendly, staff seemed to be expecting the big rush. Despite the fact that service was a little on the slow side when it got busy, nobody seemed to mind.
Chicken dinners start at $7.50 for a 1/4 chicken and range up to $22 for the whole bird, cut down to recognizable wings, breasts, thighs, etc. It costs $4 extra to get all white meat and a whole chicken with no side dishes is $13.
I opted for a basting of cinnamon-tomato sauce on my chicken, which had been roasted and briefly finished on the grill. The light sauce was quite good, but thoroughly unnecessary as the chicken would have been perfectly delicious without any additional seasoning.
The menu's claim that the chicken was "natural and free-range" equated to the chicken being small. That's not a bad thing per se, as there's something a bit creepy about the bloated roasters that come out of the Purdue factory farms, but a half a chicken was easy to put away on my own.
The side dishes had a wholesome feel to them inasmuch as mac and cheese wasn't an option. The garlic-sesame rice was lightly flavored and just a touch sticky. "Epazote compote" black beans had an extremely potent, earthy flavor, to an almost surprising degree.
Serving roast chicken with tortillas, rice, and beans is very interesting. The service is so reminiscent of something like a KFC (without the breading and deep-frying, of course) but also has overtones of any number of Mexican restaurants. It's really an interesting concept and it's hard to pin down, by appearance, flavor, or atmosphere, exactly what kind of a place Urban Chicken actually is.
Hey, maybe it's just a chicken place?
549 25th Street
Monday through Saturday 11-9