Salt Lake's Pretty Bird Serves Up Nashville-Inspired Hot Chicken With A Twist | KUER 90.1

Salt Lake's Pretty Bird Serves Up Nashville-Inspired Hot Chicken With A Twist

Mar 29, 2018


Pretty Bird is new to downtown Salt Lake City and it’s offering a spin on a growing food craze: Nashville Hot Chicken. If you’ve never had hot chicken, it’s pretty self-explanatory, fried chicken that makes you sweat. But does this new spot live up to the name?

 

Pretty Bird’s hot chicken required a proper taste test, and Angie Miller and her son-in-law Wyatt Smith are two people who know their stuff. Miller is a Nashville local in town visiting family, and Smith always requests the first stop when visiting his in-laws to be Hattie B’s, one of the restaurants responsible for putting hot chicken on the map.

Wyatt Smith attempts a bite of the nearly 1lb chicken "sando."
Credit Courtesy of Angie Miller

When Miller and Smith walk into Pretty Bird, a bright and cramped spot begging to be an Instagram post, the owner of the store, Viet Pham, welcomes them from the register.

 

Pham says they have to get a sandwich, their most popular item, and tells them to make it not just hot but hot “behind.” That’s a term chefs yell out in restaurants when they’re carrying hot food through the kitchen and Pham has repurposed it for the most daring hot chicken eaters. Since Miller and Smith know what they’re getting into he says they’ll be just fine.

 

When Pham brings out the sandwich it’s much bigger than expected. He says you need to approach it like an anaconda, “You got to dislocate that jaw and try to get that bite in there.”

Miller doesn’t quite take the advice but she jumps in. Her first bite is a satisfying crunch. “It’s definitely messy, so that’s a good sign,” she says.

But, Miller notices something different. It’s sweet. She tells Pham her discovery and he tells her that’s no mistake.

While Pham’s chicken is in part inspired by the Nashville recipe, he’s no copy-cat. He also comes from a background in fine dining and he’s interested in complex flavors.

“In a movie, you have a leading actor and a leading actress, and then there are supporting roles and those supporting roles are all the other spices,” said Pham. “Comparing that to Nashville, Nashville is basically lead actors and no one else.”

Viet Pham, the owner and head chef, enjoys his spot behind the cash register where he can chat with all the customers.
Credit Courtesy of Angie Miller

Listening to him talk, it’s obvious this guy is a fine dining chef. So, what made him want to open a hole-in-the-wall fried chicken joint in Utah?

Five years ago, Pham was in Los Angeles filming a reality show called Food Network Star. Once he was eliminated he had some free time on his hands and so he visited a friend’s restaurant where they serve up fried chicken.   

 

“I ate this fried chicken not really thinking anything about it and then all of a sudden it kind of blew my mind,” said Pham. “I just had this epiphany, I’m going to do a fried chicken restaurant someday and I’m going to do it really well.”

After his last restaurant, Forage, closed in 2016, Pham was able to focus his attention on this new project. It’s taken a while for it to get off the ground, but now that it’s open it’s been a hit, they frequently have to close early when they run out of chicken.

And that name, Pretty Bird, there’s a story there too.

“The movie Dumb and Dumber was filmed in Salt Lake City and the apartment where the guys live is actually three blocks away,” said Pham.

By design, everything in the restaurant begs for a photo.
Credit Courtesy of Angie Miller

In the movie, the main characters sell a dead bird to a kid who’s blind. (Which, gives you an idea of what the rest of the film is like.)

There’s a moment where that kid strokes his new pet, calling it “pretty bird” over and over again. Pham caught that scene recently while channel surfing.

“When ‘pretty bird’ popped up I just had this vision, I knew this was the name for this restaurant.”

Now, that name is written on the wall of his new restaurant in glowing neon letters, with a line of hungry customers wrapped around the building.