Above, honey butter glazed chicken tenders atop fluffy Belgian waffles are a must-try at Honey’s Hot Chicken. – Tina Johansson photos
by Tina Johansson
Take it from this chick: Honey’s Hot Chicken is a welcome addition to the many fine eateries in downtown Highland Park.
The place which has been open less than one month brings a spot of homey-ness and a cascade of comfort food made from scratch, to the bustling North Shore city.
Here you can have your fried chicken several different ways – sweet, hot, or in between. But you will never have it mundane.
Jeff Shapiro, the brains behind the enterprise, has partnered with Dean Eliacostas who is the chef. Shapiro of the Real Urban Barbecue fame has eateries in Highland Park, Vernon Hills, Oak Brook, and by years’ end, Skokie. He worked 14 years for Lettuce Entertain You restaurants.
Chef Eliacostas who received his training at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N. Y., sharpened his skills at a number of high-end Chicago dining spots.
There are two other partners in the chicken venture – Jordon Eckerling, and Nicole Scott, the controller who also manages the money for the Real Urban Barbecue brand.
“Fried chicken appeals to so many people. I think we’ve got a winner.” – Jeff Shapiro, founder of Honey’s Hot Chicken and Real Urban Barbecue
Shapiro, who grew up in Highland Park and still lives there, said he came up with the idea to bring fried chicken to his hometown after noticing a void. There was a Kentucky Fried Chicken in town, but it closed years ago, he said.
He wasn’t looking to bring just any chicken place. Shapiro wanted the food to be different, everything made in house with a variety of distinctive flavors.
Shapiro and Eliacostas set out to journey the juke joints of Nashville to find the best fried chicken they could sink their teeth into. They tasted the fare at 16 eateries, and brought back ideas and recipes which they developed to their liking.
For six months they sold chicken at their Oak Brook barbecue location to test it out. The verdict: “They went nuts for it. We couldn’t keep enough in stock,” said the founder. “Fried chicken appeals to so many people. I think we’ve got a winner.”
Already the place is getting its regulars. “It’s blown away my expectations,” he said, with the eatery getting a nice flow of customers at 2 p.m. on a recent weekday.
Personal trainers from Equinox fitness club down the street, Charles Young of Highland Park and Darrell King of Wadsworth came in for their first taste of the place. “The portions are nice sized,” said Young. King chimed in, “Everything is really fresh.” They agreed to be back.
A nine-foot fiberglass rooster, a sort of mascot for the place, stands at the entrance to the dining area greeting customers as they walk in.
“That’s Curtis – named after my father in-law,” crowed Shapiro. The owners bought Curtis in California and had it shipped to the restaurant.
“Everybody loves it. People have their pictures taken with the rooster,” Eliacostas, said, resplendent in his white chef’s uniform.
Later the chef brought out some honeycombs that are used for dishes at the place. “It has a nice, clean taste,” he said about the sweet amber that dresses up everything from chicken to honey-butter spread for the biscuits.
Unique varieties of golden-fried chicken sold either by the piece or with a dinner, are spiced or glazed with amazing and unique flavors.
Choose from honey butter, buffalo sauce, a Moroccan seasoning blend called Za’atar, zesty ranch, and the popular Nashville Hot. You can also have the original fried.
And if you can’t make up your mind, you can get a chicken flight featuring different flavors. The chicken is cooked in cholesterol-free vegetable oil.
“We’re a fast casual concept, but everything is made to order fresh,” explained Shapiro. “It might take 20 minutes, but it’s worth the wait.”
He added the place has been selling chicken like hotcakes, averaging close to 1,400 pieces each day.
There are chicken sandwiches, salads, jumbo fried shrimp, big Belgian waffles, and fluffy biscuits.
And don’t forget sides with their gourmet twist. Take the grilled watermelon with feta and basil for example; or the roasted pablano cheesy corn. Ever had roasted red potato salad with fresh arugula? While mac n’ cheese may be commonplace, Honey’s offers an award-winning white cheddar version that’s something to write home about.
Fresh baked pies and cakes here are a nice way to end your meal.
Expansion is possible. “If Honey’s continues to work as well as I think it will, you’re going to see some more of them,” said Shapiro. Mulling over long term plans, he said he would one day like to see both the barbecue and the chicken restaurants combined.
There is seating inside for 80, and several tables out front to dine al fresco. Carry outs and catering are available.
Dishes are substantial and the prices reasonable. It’s worth checking out.
Honey’s Hot Chicken is at 1791 St. Johns Avenue in Highland Park. Phone 847-432-6300 or visit HoneysHotChicken.com .