Nobody cares about Thai rolled ice cream anymore. Snails and black walnuts never really happened as predicted. No, the one true thing worthy and wonderful about culinary trends and predictions in 2017 that made it out alive (and thriving) is highly personalized fried chicken – and, one of its most known and best loved dispensaries, Love & Honey Fried Chicken at 1100 N. Front St.
The Southern-inspired take-out joint nestled within the triangulation of the Market-Frankford EL’s Girard stop and The Fillmore isn’t the only new chicken shack in town. Yet, like its sister in fried brined birds – Federal Donuts – since its inception, there have been lines down-and-around the block just to snag a seat at its 15-person counter or to-go dinners and lunches before selling out each day.
“We’re very active on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and encourage people to sign up with us, because we swear there’s nothing worse than having people drive all the way from Jersey or someplace far and find we’ve sold out,” says Laura Lyons, the wife-chef part of the married Love & Honey team co-starring husband-chef Todd Lyons.
Then again, the real star is their fried chicken, a succulently brined, crispy dredge bird with notes of honey, celery seed and paprika in each bite. The buttery sweet cornbread with honey butter and a selection of baked-daily, homemade pies are no slouch either. “Oh, we’re well aware of that,” says Laura with a laugh.
How did they get to fried chicken, they, a pair of Northern Liberties wedded grads from the Culinary Institute of America, with Todd a senior research-and-development chef at Campbell's Soup, and Laura a culinary marketing and consumer educator with Aramark and Le Cordon Bleu?
“For us, this is a partnership,” says Laura. “We wanted to be together, work together. Yes, we’re both classically trained chefs – Todd being much more refined, me being rustic – so we went round-and-round as to what our place together would be. Yet, we were having these dinner parties with the constant request from our friends being Todd’s fried chicken. He did this for years and really perfected his brine.”
It was the Lyons’ familiars who reminded the pair how much love the chefs put into every aspect of their fried chicken – from the seasoned flour to the timed brining to the crispy crust. “That’s your thing,” came the crowd’s cry. That’s when the Lyons took the bird and ran.
Like most fried chicken fiends, making a tasty bird goes beyond business and talent. It borders on the obsessive, and the canny. Rather than go for a large restaurant as originally intended, they went for something intimate (“we saw too many bigger spaces fail too quickly”).
“This is it?” people ask when they come in,” she laughs.
At 900 square feet, Love & Honey’s a food truck without wheels, more manageable from a life and business perspective.
“I don’t know about having a life yet because this is all we do, but we love that,” she says.
Then there’s the name. “We originally wanted to call it “True Love Fried Chicken, you know the ‘T’ and the ‘L’, it was adorable,” she says sarcastically. “We spent money on logos and business cards only to find out T&L is a trademarked barbecue restaurant in Seattle.” The Lyons were crushed, but several “adult beverages” later, came up with Love & Honey. “That’s good, because True Love doesn’t make any sense for what we do.”
Honey does. So too does the refinement that is part of their training. “Todd’s precise, exquisitely skilled with everything done exactly right,” says Laura.
There’s the choice of no-antibiotics chickens sourced from Coleman Natural. There’s the year-long research (Todd’s forte) into a brining process resembling nuclear fission, one that consists of eight hours brining (“no more, no less; the sweet spot of times after trying them all”) in salt and brown sugar. The seasoning for the dredge wound up as salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, celery seed and paprika.
They also took their time developing fresh pie crust (“butter, but not lard so vegetarians can eat here”) and cornbread recipes (“that’s our cult following, that moist bread”). Their sides are still developing (e.g. greens in smoked turkey broth), but they’ve been rich and hearty partners to the drumsticks, thighs and breasts since May.
For all the time-in on seasoning and dredging, the Lloyds didn’t know the Love & Honey signature until they tasted it pop. “It was just that instinct when you see or feel your mouth open and your eyes roll back in your head. That’s enough said. We want that face, That’s how you know you got it right.”
The concept of chicken-bread-pies and that’s it; that’s Love & Honey.
Then there is the Questlove saga, “the gift that keeps on giving,” says Laura of receiving Q’s social media shout out weeks after their chicken shop opened. The Roots’ drummer – himself a one-time purveyor of fried chicken – upon being gifted with a yummy backstage meal of Love & Honey right before the June Roots Picnic gave up kind Instagram words about the L&H lovebirds, and “the crowds never stopped coming. We were doing great already, but starting the weekend of the Roots’ Picnic, we were swamped – our first sell-out weekend,” according to Laura.
And they haven’t stopped selling out since.
What’s in the cards for Love & Honey going forward for the fall is – along with an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it-take on fried chicken – is its promotions for tailgate-ready cold fried chicken, pies that will be more autumnal in flavor (apple, pumpkin), seasonal sides (like sprout slaw) and new wing specials.
“Plus, we’re a soul food restaurant at heart and with me that means Matzo Ball soup, so we’ll be integrating our chicken into that,” says Laura with a laugh. “It’s funny, people say it’s dead in summer, but if crowds like this mean “dead,” I think we’re really going to never be home at this point.”