Helen Schwab

New NoDa restaurant Haberdish: Chicken gets star billing, but one gutsy appetizer stunned me

The simple exterior of Haberdish, a bow to haberdashery (as in textile mills’ end product) that will doubtless have Googlers ending up with directions to a Chicago restaurant named Haberdash. But still ...
The simple exterior of Haberdish, a bow to haberdashery (as in textile mills’ end product) that will doubtless have Googlers ending up with directions to a Chicago restaurant named Haberdash. But still ... GARY SCHWAB

First Bite is a snapshot, not a full review, of a place that’s opened recently.

The food: Fried chicken is the marquee offering from Haberdish, which was slated to open tonight but threw open the doors last night instead (well, not “threw open” – it was, like, 30 below, right? – unlocked and staffed the doors, maybe). And what fine doors, and what a fine look overall the place has. But first: chicken. This, brined, battered and fried, comes by half or whole, or in two-piece white or dark portions, or – in a stroke of family-friendly genius – by the tender, at 2 bucks each. My half included a perfectly crusted breast, and a perfectly juicy thigh, and each of the four pieces (wing, leg) were enormous, for $12.

Maybe even more surprising is the brined, smoked chicken, a juicy concoction glossed with Alabama-style white barbecue sauce (which, if you’ve had it before, trust me: Not like this). Very nice.

As were kale grits (flecks of kale, creamed, speckled the pebbly Anson Mills stuff) and a re-reckoning of a family gnocchi recipe, made into sweet potato dumplings. (That sage!)

Nice as these were, all were eclipsed by the livermush toast, which – I know. OK. Just stop making that face for a minute. Picture a bit of foie gras, except rough it up a little and add the browned edges you could never really get with that and subtract the insane price tag, and you’ve got: livermush toast. A few strands of bread-and-butter pickles and a swirl of molasses and mustard and ... Yes. Yes.

It embodies the effort here by Jeff Tonidandel and Jamie Brown: Raising up foods and techniques you’d have found in a turn-of-the-last-century Southern mill town (which, BTW for newcomers, NoDa essentially was), but not being bull-headed about it – things can be given a few modern twists. (Pretty sure “sweet tea butter” with your hush puppies wasn’t a thing then, but believe me: It’s a thing now.) A lot more on all that in a longer, later story.

Colleen Hughes has put together a rambunctious cocktail list (the house mint julep employs Old Forester Classic); eight taps range from Anderson Valley Wild Turkey bourbon barrel stout to ... Bud Light; and the wine list has nearly as many sparklers (the best with fried chicken!) as reds and whites.

The look: Rustic and open in the way of siblings Crepe Cellar and Growlers Pourhouse – long bar, backed with open shelves of brown liquor (mostly) against gorgeous white-clay brick. Banquette backs covered in selvedge denim from Cone Mills (selvedge = “self edge” = you can see the edges; take a look below). Edisonesque bulbs in the light fixtures that aren’t the simpler copper pendants. Family-style heavy crockery and linens. Soapstone bar (from Virginia); tabletops made in town from the building’s own rafters. Bar taps are spindles from an old mill. Some art by Paul Sires is coming; he’s half of the couple (with Ruth Ava Lyons) who basically got NoDa’s reinvigoration started in the wayback days.

The service: Casually enthusiastic, jeans-wearing and warm, they work together with runners bringing drinks and plates as ready – nearly always a better approach for this kind of food. A few kinks on knowledge exist, but when ours didn’t know, she found out quickly.

The details: Appetizers $4 (smoked deviled eggs or house pickles) to $9 (pimento cheese ball!); entrees $6 (two-piece dark) to $24 (whole brined, smoked chicken); sides $3 (pickled slaw) to $12 (large kale salad). Promised: Chicken and waffles on Sundays; chicken and biscuits on Tuesdays. 3106 N. Davidson St.; http://haberdish.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/haberdish/?fref=ts; no phone yet.

Doubleclick the link below to see the whole menu. (There’s a daily insert, too, of pickle – though Tonidandel points out “it’s hard to have a robust pickle program” when you open in mid-December); cold side and hot side.)