Off Notre-Dame, opposite the IGA and around back near the CLSC is St-Henri’s hottest pop-up: Bucky Rooster’s. Fried chicken might be the summer of 2020s most notable restaurant pivot. Vin Mon Lapin turned into Casgrain BBQ and their sourdough fried chicken took Montreal by storm, and now Alex Cohen and Raegan Steinberg of Arthur’s –– after having to put their new dine-in project Evalina’s on hold — recently opened a fried chicken restaurant of their own. In partnership with Shah Kash of the Letter Bet, Bucky Rooster was born in a hype machine.
The concept is deeply branded, taking design and concept cues from American fast-food icon Sonic and the era of the 1950s drive-in diner. At the same time as being reminiscent of ’50s fast-food culture, it also has this distinctly ’90s feel. The logo, menu concept and general feel of the place are like a 2020 version of the Max, which, as I discovered after a quick Google search, is the name of the diner in Saved by the Bell.
I arrived at 6 p.m., an hour after opening, and the parking lot was packed. Young St-Henri socialites in fresh sneakers were tucking into buckets of fried chicken and eating off the hoods of their Porsches and Mercedes. My understanding, prior to arriving, was that the pop-up has been mobbed since opening, often selling out of chicken long before the posted closing time. By the time I ordered, the wait was nearly an hour. To their credit, the ordering system was tightly organized: you put your name on a waitlist, 20 minutes to a half-hour later you get a text letting you know you’re next in line to order. Once your order is placed, you wait for a second text which lets you know your food is ready for pick-up. Very organized, very COVID-friendly.
I took a picture of the menu and waited in the parking lot. My first impression, I must admit, was that the whole concept seemed kind of contrived. The name Bucky Rooster’s felt like it came from the shortlist of names for fast-food joints in a Grand Theft Auto game. I worried before going that it would be a joke. Like, this is trashy food, so let’s lean into the trashiness of it. But as I watched people around me hanging out in a parking lot, eating chicken and seafoam green slices of pie off the hoods of their cars, I started to get it. It wasn’t a joke. Yes, it’s playful and funny, but it’s incredibly self-aware and it’s drawing from a dining experience of the past that makes perfect sense for our current way of life. It’s a COVID-friendly business model that not only does it in a smart and safe way, but in a way that doesn’t take itself too seriously. What I thought was a dumb gimmick is actually a genius move.
It goes without saying that the menu is all about the fried chicken. Outside of that, there are also three options for sandwiches, a couple of sides and two dessert options (pies by the slice). If you’re going, don’t overthink it –– get a bucket of fried chicken. Buckets are offered in a few different formats including a 10-piece whole chicken ($58), five-piece half (what we ordered, which was enough to feed three, $30) and a three-piece ($26). All the chicken is fried on-the-bone (the right way if you ask me) and lightly tossed in honey with an option to add house hot sauce. It’s excellent. The crust is crispy, flavourful and gently sweetened by honey –– inside the meat is moist and juicy (in part thanks to the bone) and perfectly seasoned. It’s flawless fried chicken and we noted that it was uncharacteristically devoid of grease –– I mean it’s still fried chicken, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t saturated with fat the way so much fried chicken is.
A bucket of chicken comes with an order of wedge fries and their sweet chilli and sour cream dipping sauce, two toasted buns and a crispy dill pickle. There are a number of side sauces to add at additional cost –– some hot, some not. We added a classic buffalo sauce. It’s also worth noting that while prices might seem a little on the steep side, they include tax and a 15 per cent tip, which to me seemed reasonable.
While waiting to order, a lot of people around me seemed to be eating sandwiches and one in particular, the moon dog, seemed to be a crowd favourite. I ordered it, too. The Moondog is a fried chicken sandwich, obviously, but it’s a good one. A thick piece of fried chicken breast is served on a soft potato bun and topped with chilli jam, sliced pickles, mayo and an escabeche slaw.
We finished our meal with a slice of pie that looked like it came straight out of a ’50s diner pie carousel: a frozen (read no-bake) lime pie with a spiced crumb crust. This pie, for me, was a perfect culmination of everything that Bucky Rooster’s is: tongue-in-cheek nostalgia made better.
If we weren’t living in the times we’re in, I don’t think I’d get excited about Bucky Rooster’s. If we weren’t living in the times we’re in, Bucky Rooster’s probably would never have existed. Fundamentally, this concept was developed to bridge a gap for its owners –– something to keep money coming in while they wait to be able to open their new restaurant. So many restaurateurs are doing the same thing, but Bucky Rooster’s is one of the best pivots I’ve seen. We’ve been looking back in time often these days; usually, it’s a look back relatively recent pre-pandemic days, but we also look back to 1918 and the Spanish flu. These reflections of the past are either mournful glimpses of a lost way of life or a cautionary tale that prophesies a grim future. Bucky Rooster’s is a pie-eyed and joyful look back to drive-in culture with a clever nod to ’90s pop culture. It acknowledges the restrictions of the time and responds to them in a way that’s full of fun and levity and boils it down to a simple concept: pies and thighs –– what’s not to like? ■
This feature was originally published in the September issue of Cult MTL. For more information about Bucky Rooster’s (3981 Notre-Dame W.), please visit their Facebook page. They are also on Uber Eats.
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