355 Amsterdam Avenue (at 77th St.)
The florescent glow on West 77th and Amsterdam calls to me in my sleep. I’ve tried to escape my vice (I even moved to Brooklyn) but I frequently find myself in a daze on the Uptown 2/3 train jonesing for a fix. I’d like to say I’m addicted to an organic bakery or a fair-trade coffee shop, but addiction isn’t pretty. I’m addicted to Chirping Chicken.
The name alone is enough to raise eyebrows. My friends expect a certain level of obscurity in my restaurant recommendations since I’ve dragged them on extended multi-subway-line journeys, through seedy neighborhoods and down dark alleys in search of the perfect meal. However, my picks don’t usually sound as tacky as Chirping Chicken.
“Is Chirping Chicken the new ironically named hip place in Fort Greene?” a friend asks in confusion. Another looks at me, wondering if I’d meant to say Fatty Crab or Momofuku. “Wait! Oh, that greasy place?” she realizes at last.
It’s true, Chirping Chicken is less of a restaurant than a brightly-lit waiting room in which you have the option of eating. But once you cross the threshold, past the cherry-red exterior, you’ll always remember your first time.
Low expectations work to The Chicken’s advantage. The menu offers more than just chicken and the place is surprisingly clean and busy inside. I first wandered in on a whim on a cloudy Sunday afternoon. New to the neighborhood, I was in search of greasy pleasure food and found myself in Chirping Chicken. My first order was the combination BBQ ribs and chicken platter ($10.49), a huge amount of food that I struggled to finish. The plate of a quarter chicken (with choice of white or dark meat) and a quarter rack of ribs also included crispy and tender sweet potato fries. The meat practically fell off the rib bones and was smothered in a sweet BBQ sauce with a spicy kick.
Now, the chicken and ribs outshine other local BBQ fare any day, but for reasons unclear, Chirping Chicken’s menu also has a Greek flair. This is what begins to set this Upper West Side spot apart from its competitors. In addition to ribs, chicken and burgers, The Chicken serves up gryo and souvlaki sandwiches and lemon rice soup. However, the dish that keeps me trekking to the UWS is the grilled chicken Greek salad. How could a simple salad entice such craving? For $6.99 ($7.19 delivered), the small grilled chicken Greek salad comes with two stuffed grapes leaves, a block of feta bigger than an iPhone, a grilled pita and a giant grilled chicken breast. That’s in addition to the generous amount of salad greens, chunks of tomatoes, salty olives and cucumbers. Really, can you find a better deal than that? The feta and olives give the salad so much tangy flavor that dressing is almost unnecessary, but it’s the perfect dipping accompaniment to the warm pita.
It’s important to note that the Chirping Chicken on Amsterdam on the UWS is the only location of Chirping Chicken that I’ve found worth visiting. There are several other establishments of the same name throughout NYC, but they have different owners, the prices are higher, the atmosphere isn’t as nice and they don’t offer complimentary pita. So don’t waste your time.
Open for more than 20 years, Chirping Chicken is hardly a newcomer to the nabe. The restaurant used to occupy a dingy-looking storefront across the street, and the new location has vastly improved the place. The ambiance is best during warm weather when The Chicken opens its large windows and offers outdoor sidewalk seating. It has a wide, almost 50-block delivery range (from West 54th to 100th Street) and a busy team of employees taking phone orders. Now I just have to figure out how to bribe one of the delivery guys to supply me with Greek salads at 2 a.m.