My memory of the Before Times is a little hazy, so please remind me: Did anyone in Berlin give a cluck about fried chicken pre-pandemic? Sure, there was Risa, but our after-hours A1 orders were inhaled with discretion (give or take an Ausländer meme), not proudly Instagrammed as evidence of our cultured palates.
Yet once the virus hit, the entire city was suddenly awash with battered birds. Leading the charge was Barra, the Neukölln wine bar about whom I’ve already spilled much digital ink, but whose great food and spot-on instincts deserve it. Who knew that a €10 gourmet chicken sandwich (since raised to €12) was exactly the dish that locked-down Berliners needed? Flavourful, comforting, indulgent yet affordable enough that you could eat it every weekend. Pretty soon, every other restaurant was scrambling to follow suit, from Mrs. Robinsons’ Japanese-style sando to Moksa’s “TFC”, Annelies’ English muffin version to Tinman’s spiced thighs. Yet nobody came close to the original – until a month ago, when a last-minute challenger emerged.
They called it “the fried chicken sandwich endgame”, the product of a collaboration between Max Kindel, sous chef at the two-Michelin-starred Facil, and Carlo Ennuschat, a music promoter, former taco entrepreneur and general Berlin scenester. Towards the end of March, the internet got word that the two had created a special-edition chicken burger. It looked spicy. It looked crispy. It looked a whole lot like Barra’s.
In the sage words of someone who’s using the whateverth month of lockdown as an excuse to finally watch The Wire, if you come for the king, you best not miss. And by all accounts, these guys didn’t. Hundreds came to the debut of their pop-up, called Birds in the Kitchen, at Friedrichshain schnitzel restaurant Schneeweiß. Their photos and drool-worthy descriptions made weekend number 2 even bigger.
Now, on the eve of Birds in the Kitchen’s third event (this time at Kreuzberg’s Barkin’ Kitchen), and Barra’s second-to-last weekend selling its sandwich before closing for May renovations, it’s time to ask the question: Which of the two is worth your time and money? Having tried both, here’s my unscientific comparison.
Barra: 160 grams of buttermilk-brined chicken leg (from free-range black-feathered birds slaughtered at 100 days old) with a tender, moist interior and a thick, crunchy crust.
Birds in the Kitchen: Roughly the same amount of Bresse chicken (a rare French breed that lives free-range for four months before being confined to a shed and fattened on corn and milk for two weeks) in a somewhat lighter, very crispy batter. “Moist” doesn’t cut it as a descriptor — this baby is juicy, with an indisputably chickeny flavour that might even be off-putting if you’re not used to it.
Barra: A homemade milk bun, pillowy yet solid enough to contain the messiness within.
BITK: Homemade brioche that’s softer, squishier and so buttery it feels a bit indecent.
Barra: It’s all about the glaze on this one. The chicken bones and trimmings are made into a stock that’s cooked down with muscovado sugar, apple cider vinegar and spices until it’s sticky, sweet and damn near irresistible. There’s also a fairly mild kimchi cabbage slaw, plus house-pickled jalapeño and cucumber for tang and additional spice.
BITK: Post-frying, the chicken pieces take a swim in what the crew calls a “sour funky hot sauce”, although all I could register was a slight heat. Toppings include jalapeño-cabbage slaw, oversized chunks of homemade pickled cucumber and a tangy parsley ranch dressing that I wish I’d gotten more of.
Barra: After wrangling queue after queue during sandwich stints in spring and autumn 2020, Barra did the smart thing this year and started taking pre-orders, shaving down the average wait time to a manageable 10 minutes or so.
BITK: Similar to Barra at the beginning, pop-up visitors must endure an interminable, not-always-masked queue with plenty of chat-and-cuts, plus additional time spent waiting for one’s name to be called after ordering. I got there 15 minutes before the official opening time; it was an hour before the sandwich landed in my hand.
In a way, we all win: these are both very good sandwiches. Going by taste alone, it’s a toss-up – if you really want the flavour of the bird to shine through, the newcomers take the crown, but if sauce is your game, Barra easily wins. Having said that, the overall experience also matters, and I couldn’t help but hear strains of Peggy Lee in my head after trying Birds in the Kitchen. All that queuing and waiting around, and an extra €1.50 spent, when I could’ve just smashed Barra’s pre-order button?
So here’s your game plan. Get the Barra sandwich this weekend – it’s one of your last chances, after all. If you’re still feeling the food FOMO after that, Birds in the Kitchen is doing another event on May 1 (location TBA) at which, word has it, they’ll be unveiling a spicy version of their creation.
Or, y’know, eat something that isn’t fried chicken. But who the hell does that anymore?