Southern comfort food on the Strip
Southern-style fried chicken has landed at Yardbird Southern Table & Bar - Las Vegas inside The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino. The Miami-based eatery settled into the hotel-casino’s Restaurant Row, next to spots by acclaimed chefs such as Daniel Boulud and Mario Batali. Though you might not exactly equate Southern cuisine with the South Florida city, Yardbird has been a proper representative of the home-style and soulful fare, and it has the right amount of attitude to pull it off on the Las Vegas Strip.
It seems like the restaurant has been busy since the minute it opened, garnering lots of attention not only for the chicken but also for a fun cocktail program. Questlove of The Roots DJing the opening party didn’t hurt, either. Its easily accessible location from both The Venetian and The Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino and expansive bar and lounge seating has made Yardbird a popular meeting spot as well as the prime location to pre-game before heading to a show or club. And on weekends is a go-to spot for a boozy brunch.
Yardbird’s 8,000-square-foot space seats 180 guests, and features one private dining room and a semi-private dining area. The open kitchen set at the back of the restaurant allows you to watch the back-of-house in action as it works the pass. Lots of wood makes the space feel like it’s been reclaimed from an old barn; jars of pickles made in house line up along the walls. Look closer at the framed photographs: They’re not family portraits but rather a collection of rare and never-before-seen shots of film stars and musicians, all taken by photographer John R. Hamilton between the 1940s and 1990s. The all black-and-white series features some 800 celebrities, with 75 appearing at the Yardbird Las Vegas outpost, including Paul Newman, Johnny Cash and Ann-Margret.
Check out the logo, which will give you a big clue as to what to order: a chicken being chased by a cleaver that’s inscribed with “Run, Chicken, Run.” Llewelyn’s Fine Fried chicken is named for Yardbird partner John Kunkel’s grandmother — and her secret “27-hour” recipe. Whatever happens in that 27 hours, when it’s up, it produces some of the juiciest and most flavorful fried chicken in town. Enjoy it solo, served as a half bird with housemade honey hot sauce, or pair it with its natural soul mate: waffles. Yardbird goes above and beyond what you’d find at your favorite soul food joint, presenting the “old-school chicken” with a golden brown waffle flecked with cheddar cheese and topped with chow-chow, the ubiquitous Southern relish, all meant to share. Don’t feel like committing to eating chicken on the bone? Mama’s Chicken Biscuits present the free-range fried chicken as sliders, served with pepper jelly and pickles on flaky, warm buttermilk biscuits, all made in house.
The Taste of the South
There is indeed more than fried chicken on the menu. Southern favorites that you might not see otherwise in Las Vegas make an appearance at Yardbird in the form of small plates, such as the chicken liver toast, a poor man’s pâté, or deep-fried frog’s legs, served with sweet and sour jelly, bacon bits and a escabeche mayo, the Las Vegas restaurant’s version of the traditional sauce piquant. The kitchen stays true to its roots, with powerful dishes such as shrimp and grits with giant Florida shrimp, fried farm-raised catfish with spicy beurre blanc sauce and charred okra and the 18-ounce tomahawk pork chop, an only-in-Vegas dish served with roasted mini-heirloom potatoes, kale puree and spiced cracklings.
Weekend brunch is a prime time to sample Yardbird’s menu with plenty of the entrées served as a shareable size for two to four people, including the aforementioned shrimp and grits, as well as the formidable Yardbird Benedict, which is part brunch staple, part casserole. A buttermilk biscuit is crumbled into a personal-size cast-iron pan and topped with a soft poached egg, house-cured bacon and rich, silky hollandaise. If you have more of a sweet tooth that early in the day, there’s the ’77 Elvis pancakes: chocolate chip pancakes with banana compote, bourbon maple syrup and a bit of peanut butter in homage to the King’s favorite.
While drinks are definitely an important component to the menu, Yardbird places special attention to the ice that goes into them. Not only are there five different types of ice (all of which have varying properties that affect how they chill and melt into a cocktail), but there are other seasonal flavored and garnished ice cubes that impart more character to each drink. The Pork Chop, one of the most unusual beverages you’ll ever find even on the Las Vegas Strip, combines Duke bourbon, Yardbird Dijon syrup, yuzu juice and apple cider, served over a 1 1/4-inch block of ice, a Dijon-thyme ice cube that is an at once savory and clean, but refreshing. The Southern Peach is as close to sweet tea as you’ll get in a cocktail, made with Old Forester 86, Aperol, lemon and thyme, white peach puree and sweet tea and of course, served in a mason jar. If you had a front porch to drink on at Yardbird, you’d have this in hand.