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.Best of East Bay 2023 – Food & Drink

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Bold Moves

Hawking Bird makes a fried chicken sandwich new again

Preparing a fried chicken sandwich across the street from Bakesale Betty is a bold move. Having served them for the past 20 years, Betty’s still has customers flocking there to form long, lunchtime lines. But one would expect boldness from James Syhabout, the chef behind Commis and Hawking Bird, his casual dining restaurant in Temescal. During the pandemic, Hawking Bird shut down its dining room. The to-go model kept the restaurant going, but they’ve reopened for indoor dining in the last few weeks. 

When I arrived at lunchtime, every table was empty, but I could hear a couple of cooks in the kitchen using fire and metal to make meals. After I put in my order for a chicken sandwich ($12.50) and some firecracker shrimp ($18), customers and food delivery drivers came in, one after another, to pick up bagged orders to go. One couple did sit down nearby, but dinner might be the sit-down meal diners are returning for.   

The décor in the dining room channels an urban barn chicness—grays, off-whites and wood grain finishes that Joanna Gaines would approve of. A dozen copies of the chef’s cookbook, Hawker Fare, line the bookshelves facing out at the entryway. It’s the clearest piece of evidence linking Syhabout’s Hawking Bird to the more refined dishes at Commis on Piedmont Avenue. The chef’s Thai Isaan heritage is an influence on both menus.   

Where Hawking Bird’s chicken sandwich differs from Bakesale Betty’s is, of course, in the delicious details. Along with mayo, the chef adds a homemade charred chili jam. The cabbage slaw is dressed with lime juice, fresh green chilies, mint and cilantro. The essential ingredients are the same, but Syhabout adjusts the flavor profiles to make a fried chicken sandwich new again.  

Hawking Bird, open Tue-Sat 11:30am-8:15pm and Sun 11:30am-7:45pm, 4901 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510.593.2376. Hawkingbird.com.


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