Iraqi fried chicken

The Iraqi fried chicken at Butcher & Bee comes with Jimmy Red cornbread and a smoked za'atar ranch. Provided

The chefs at Butcher & Bee wanted to sell more chicken, and the solution seemed obvious. 

Over the winter, its roasted chicken was the lowest-selling protein dish on the restaurant’s dinner menu. Chef Stephen Wine knew what to do.

“It’s not rocket science,” Wine said. “People love fried chicken.”

He and fellow chef Michael Schorn decided to put their own spin on the Southern staple with inspiration from Butcher & Bee owner Michael Shemtov, whose father is from Iraq, and used baharat, a spice blend popular in the Middle East. 

The Iraqi fried chicken landed on the menu in February. Last month, the five-piece chicken dish, which is served with Jimmy Red cornbread, was their No. 1 seller for dinner.

“Once we put that on the menu, it changed things,” Wine said. “The fried chicken has done significantly better.”

They’ve sold between 30 and 40 per day. They usually sold fewer than 10 roasted chickens per day.

The uptick is not solely owed to the fried factor. Many patrons have ordered it because, as Wine said, seeing it on the menu "sort of catches you off guard."

So does the taste. 

While black pepper is the most prominent by weight in the blend, it's spices such as cardamom, clove and cinnamon that "you really notice," Wine said.

“It’s a lot of different spices that are not something you would usually associate with fried chicken at all,” he said. “It’s not something you would associate with the South.”

Along with use of baharat, the chefs say their cooking method has also made the meal stand out.

They brine the Keegan-Filion Farm chicken for a day and then slow cook it in buttermilk from Lowcountry Creamery for four hours, “which gives it a really juicy, tender flavor,” Schorn said. The chicken is then fried at a high temperature with rice bran oil. 

“Most of the fried chicken you eat is a lot tougher,” Schorn said. “You can cut this with a fork.”

It’s served with smoked za'atar ranch, which instead of sour cream is made with labneh, a creamy strained yogurt.

The $22 chicken plate comes with a side of cornbread made with Jimmy Red cornmeal and cilantro, parsley and chermoula.

“People are very opinionated about corn bread, too,” Wine said. “With something like that, like you know it’s going to taste like corn. But this hits you with a lot of different flavors that you’re not expecting.”

Now that it's a restaurant favorite, Wine said the Iraqi fried chicken "won't be going anywhere anytime soon." 

On a personal level, the chef doesn't want it to leave the menu. 

"It's my favorite snack to eat," he said. "Access to any kind of fried chicken would make me happy, but I like this one. It's just really good." 

Reach Amanda Hancock at 843-937-5320. Follow her on Twitter @Amanda1hancock.

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