A-well-a don't you know about Nashbird?
Well, everybody knows that Nashbird is the word.
Except, shockingly, I have talked to several people who do not know that Nashbird is the word. Some of them, a-well-a-well-a-well, don’t get out much. Or don’t spend time on social media. Or don’t go beyond a five mile radius of their homes. And that’s fine. It’s just...I forget sometimes. I forget that not everybody is obsessed with food the way I am (and, I assume, you are).
These are probably people who don’t know who Marc Dunham is. He owns Nashbird, by the way, and Iguana Mexican Grill.
They probably don’t know he used to head the culinary school at Francis Tuttle Vo-Tech and founded the school’s amazing District 21 student-led restaurant.
And I’m betting they really don’t know that he used to have my favorite food truck, JT’s Tacos, or that he spent time running the Cordon Bleu in Austin, Texas.
He also made a documentary. He’s kind of awesome, guys.
Nashbird sells “Hot Dang!” Nashville-style fried chicken, both on the bone and as strips. Because in a city that is fast being populated by Chick-Fil-A, Zaxby’s, PDQ, Raising Cane's and other chicken strip purveyors, someone figured out that, hey, maybe local food lovers would like to eat some local chicken strips.
Located in the building formerly occupied by my beloved Hillbilly’s Po-Boys (and, before that, Pachinko Parlor), Nashbird is a narrow slip of a restaurant with a nice, long bar to belly up to, a few two- and four-tops and a couple of larger community-sized tables. Out front, when the weather’s palatable, there are lots of spots on the patio to enjoy hot chicken in Oklahoma’s hot weather.
And I honestly think it could be a walk-up counter and still be packed daily. Because people love chicken strips and Marc Dunham knows how to make EVERYTHING.
You’re not going to Nashbird to eat food that isn’t chicken, okay? Stop acting like that’s an option. So rather than run down absolutely everything on the menu, I’ll tell you the side dish you should get and then we’re going to do a deep dive on the chicken.
Macaroni and cheese.
It’s cheesy and gooey and it comes with a gorgeous breadcrumb crumble on top that gives it a varied texture. The newest iteration of the dish is ultra buttery. You can get it as a side, which I recommend. You could also get an entree size mac n cheese for $8.50. I recommend that less. You’re here for chicken. Don’t get distracted.
Here we go. There are four heat levels on the menu, but actually six different spice versions you can get. Let’s get into it.
Level 0 - Southern Fried
It would be a mistake to say Southern Fried chicken has no spice. Of course it has spice. It is seasoned. But this is the no heat version of Nashbird’s chicken. If you are allergic to any heat at all, this is for you.
As a tester of tastes, I think it’s instructive to see how the chicken turns out without any of the restaurant’s signature spice blends. It’s moist, which is pretty vital to good chicken, but the flavor is pretty basic. If you love Raising Cains, et al, this will scratch that itch.
Level 0b - Buttermilk Ranch
“We use only the finest Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning,” Dunham said. Yes. Hidden Valley. Why? “Because they make the best ranch, hands down.”
This is a more flavorful chicken strip, but it’s still very mild. If you get Thai food and ask for zero stars heat, I’d recommend this. It’s still juicy, thanks to brining, but there’s no burn. You can eat this around dry leaves and oily rags without any fear of igniting a blaze.
Level 1 - Chirp
Here’s where Marc’s alchemy comes in. Don’t let the color of the chicken fool you — it’s bright red, but that’s because of a lot of paprika. It’s got a little sizzle thanks to some cayenne pepper, but it’s easy to handle for spice newbies.
If you’re still wary, be sure to get some pickle ranch dipping sauce on the side. It is exactly what it sounds like and I love it. I’m thinking about putting it behind my ears and making it my signature scent.
Level 2 - Kickin’
Still kind of red, but edging toward orange, Kickin’-level chicken bumps up the spice level by increasing cayenne and decreasing paprika. There’s still a nice hit of smoky flavor from the paprika, but the spice will hang around a little longer.
Here’s where you need to make a decision: Is a little more pain worth a lot more flavor? I say that it is.
Level 3 - Hot Dang
This is probably the most popular level at Nashbird and the reason is simple. The cayenne level drops to make way for a new dominant pepper: habanero.
Habanero used to be the hottest peppers you could find at the grocery store and they come with one of the most distinct flavors in the hot-hot-hot range. There’s a fruity, floral sweetness to habaneros that I prefer to the more straightforward cayenne. The heat will stick with you longer, eventually fading into a smoldering flame that is reignited with each deep breath. But the initial burst of flavor is tasty enough to make the pain worthwhile.
Level 4 - Crazy Hot
Pain lovers line up here. Dedicated chili heads might find the heat of these disappointing (more on that later), but for your average, everyday tongue-having public, this is plenty hot. There’s a trade-off, though — the fruitiness of habanero peppers is diminished, replaced by the smokier ghost pepper. There’s still a ton of flavor here. Marc Dunham doesn’t bother with food that doesn’t taste good. But it’s got a big burst of heat that has Energizer Bunny-levels of persistence.
Fun fact, Nashbird is working on an even-hotter spice blend for those who, like fictional boxer Clubber Lang, are expecting pain.
You can go cooler and no one will judge. For a place that prides itself on hot chicken, Nashbird is surprisingly chill about people who just don’t want a topical tongue burn.
In addition to strips, I quite enjoy the chicken biscuit or hot chicken sandwich (both $9.50, including a side). With the biscuit, I recommend getting some honey. It just seems right. The sandwich comes with slaw on a brioche bun, which helps moderate the heat and adds a nice crunch.
My prediction: I’ll be going back to Nashbird again and again and again.