Spring Chicken Opens Today in Coral Gables: Kunkel's Southern Comfort Goes Fast Casual

The Country Club Sandwich ($6.45) is served with a choice of crisp or grilled chicken and topped with Swiss, pepper bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, house pickles, and buttermilk ranch dressing.
The Country Club Sandwich ($6.45) is served with a choice of crisp or grilled chicken and topped with Swiss, pepper bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, house pickles, and buttermilk ranch dressing.
Photo by Torrey Johnson

Despite the muggy air and incessant rain, a full-on backyard block party was happening at Spring Chicken’s grand-opening celebration. A live band belted out '90s hits, checkered cloths covered the tables, and waitresses in cutoffs and cowboy boots floated through the crowd with bite-size samples of the Southern-inspired menu.

Spring Chicken is John Kunkel's latest endeavor. The 50 Eggs Inc. founder, who amassed a fortune by growing and then selling the fast-casual burrito joint, Lime, is also behind Yardbird Southern Table & Bar and Swine. Kunkel also opened Khong River House, which was named a semifinalist for a James Beard Award in its first year of operation. Khong, located just off Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, closed last May, but Kunkel intends to reopen it on the mainland.

The Spring Chicken concept will marry Yardbird’s Southern fare and farm-fresh flavors with a fast-casual, accessible setting.

By opening the eatery at 1514 S. Dixie Hwy. in Coral Gables, Kunkel and company will directly take on another restaurateur's fast-casual empire. Danny Meyer's Shake Shack, located at 1450 S. Dixie Hwy., is a close neighbor. The Shack just launched its first chicken product, the Chick'n Shack ($6.29) sandwich, a crisp breast made from cage-free poultry, served with lettuce, pickles, and buttermilk-herb mayo on a GMO-free potato roll.

A live band set the mood for the family-friendly opening event.EXPAND
A live band set the mood for the family-friendly opening event.
Photo by Julie Harans

The Spring Chicken party took place the night before the restaurant's official opening in Coral Gables. Three other locations – Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami International Airport — will follow this spring.

“We wanted to make it a family event,” Kunkel said. “There’s tattoo artists and coloring books, and we just wanted it to become a fun part of the neighborhood.”

Spring Chicken's full menu will feature larger versions of these grilled chicken sliders.EXPAND
Spring Chicken's full menu will feature larger versions of these grilled chicken sliders.
Photo by Julie Harans

Fried chicken sliders vanished from trays in seconds and were a clear guest favorite, but the full menu will showcase the bird in all its glory: grilled, smoked and pulled, or fried to a perfect crunch. Hearty sandwiches are layered with house-made, flavor-packed toppings such as pepper jelly and traditional slaw, and they all stay snuggly in the $5-to-$7 range.

Chickens used at the restaurant come from Springer Mountain Farms in northern Georgia. The 100 percent natural birds are raised free of steroids, hormones, or antibiotics, and their diet consists of pesticide-free, vegetarian corn and soybean with no animal byproducts. 

Desserts like red velvet, chocolate, and zucchini cupcakes were served at the opening party.EXPAND
Desserts like red velvet, chocolate, and zucchini cupcakes were served at the opening party.
Photo by Julie Harans

The main attraction, and the source of the hype, is Kunkel’s grandmother Lewellyn’s fried chicken recipe, originally used at South Beach's Yardbird. In tribute to the SoBe restaurant, which still packs in tourists and locals after four years of service, Spring Chicken offers the Yardbird ($5.95) — a fried chicken thigh sandwich that serves as an homage to the original but costs less than half the price.

If you’re looking for even fewer frills and even more chicken, pieces are also sold individually, or alongside waffle fries and minty watermelon in the Blue Plate Specials.

Watermelon with fresh mint is one of many Southern-inspired side items on Spring Chicken's menu.EXPAND
Watermelon with fresh mint is one of many Southern-inspired side items on Spring Chicken's menu.
Photo by Julie Harans

Spring Chicken also offers a small but well-curated beer selection featuring local brewers such as Wynwood Brewing Company, MIA, and Concrete Beach. There are two beers on tap — Miami Vice IPA ($6.25) and Yardbird Stock Ale ($4.99). Concrete Beach's Stiltsville ($5.25) and Wynwood's La Rubia ($5.25) are available in bottles. In addition, Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Miller High Life, and PBR tallboys are offered. Wines on tap are available by the glass.

No matter how many smiles we force or sweet teas we down, this is still Miami, so salads like the Super Food Kale and Country Cobb are available as lighter alternatives. But Spring Chicken doesn’t skimp on the flavor or its signature style, adding homemade dressings and biscuit croutons to the mix.

In this fast-paced city, sometimes all you need is some simply delicious grub with a loving, homemade touch. Though a culinary spinoff can be risky, Spring Chicken has potential to bring a little piece of much-needed Southern comfort to Miami.

Spring Chicken is open for lunch and dinner Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.


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