Entertain this: The term “chef-driven” got annoying quick, being overused, misunderstood or just shorthand for something more gourmet and less corporate but not actually all that different from what’s been done across fine dining kitchens for decades. I try to avoid it, but couldn’t help but think of it literally when I learned that Eli Patterson is the guy behind Flighty Fowl, a chicken-obsessed food truck with a vibrant yellow-orange banner wrap complete with a cartoon bird in aviator gear.
On the literal front, Patterson’s a trained chef — I may have judged his final exam at Paragon Culinary School, at least we both think we remember that when I reintroduce myself to him all these years later — so when he pilots his vehicle, it’s definitely chef-driven. (Yuk yuk!) But more so I think it’s a fitting term for a chef who leaves big kitchen work behind to start his own truck, exhibiting a level of skill beyond that of the at-home cook (sometimes a self-proclaimed “chef” with no real-world cred) who opts to start a mobile business. It’s someone, who in the case of Flighty Fowl, makes wings and chicken sammies more interesting than average bar-food renditions that rely on common, commercial sauces and a penchant for machismo spice levels outweighing actual taste. This is someone who brings deeper knowledge of flavor layering and technique — and much more — to the table.
If You Go
Mobile business, 719-985-5480, facebook.com/flightyfowl
Patterson spent eight years at Bourbon Brothers Smokehouse & Tavern, working his way up from sous chef to executive chef and GM, roles he kept until spring 2020 (we all remember what happened then). After taking more than a year off to be a full-time dad, he began working on this concept: a small menu he can execute alone most of the time (he takes our orders, cooks the food and runs it to us inside Urban Animal Beer Co. one night). It finally opened this past June. He designed it for quick service, to keep items fresh and rotated through rapidly, and “to have fun.” Fun. Remember what that’s like, valiant burned-out chefs of the world?
All-natural chicken breasts for the sandwiches are grilled, not fried, both to be healthier and to help with prep speed. He brines his birds, seasons and cooks the breasts sous vide first both to flavor and tenderize, but also to make grill-finishing them go faster. Different flavors for wings and sandwiches get different marinades or rubs, and are all smoked (with cherry and apple woods typically, and sometimes pecan). And of course sauces are homemade, like the winner of this past August’s inaugural Best of the West Wing Fest, where Patterson beat out a dozen other eateries with his PBJammin’ wing. It’s made with peanut butter, bacon jam, sweet chile and soy sauces, and garnished with scallions and peanut crumbles. It’s expectedly thick, rich and creamy, a touch sweet and kinda channeling a Thai vibe of sorts; but through all that you still get a notable pleasant smoke signature that further stylizes it. Yum yum.
By contrast, the Angry Jamaican (with a 24-hour jerk seasoning brine) holds a dry-spice rub texture on its skin with only a little drizzle of jerk sauce layering the spicy chile flavors on top. A warm heat builds and lingers, amplified momentarily by a sip of an IPA’s hoppiness, but never growing past a pleasant medium smolder. The only wing we miss this night: a Korean buffalo. The menu offers just three wing styles ($11/half pound or $19/pound) and three sandwich variations (all $13), plus sides of cheese curds or pub fries. Those, by the way, are generously portioned for only $3, a commercial product with the food-scienced crunchy jacket that strokes our bliss points, though Patterson uses his own garlic and Parmesan powder to add a tanginess.
We sample through all three sandwiches, the first of which fills in for the third wing style: It’s call the K-Buff and hosts a Korean buffalo sauce and blue cheese for cooling balance and funk, plus shredded lettuce, tomato and dill pickle coins. The bird’s nice and juicy, and the flavor’s tart with the pickle acidity giving pop, though it doesn’t read overtly Korean to our tastes. The CBLT, similarly with lettuce and tomato but also melted white cheddar, again tastes a little different than our menu read, with the mustard flavor somewhat muted in a maple Dijon aioli, though the maple bacon jam speaks up plenty. It’s the only breast that’s a touch drier inside, too. Finishing with my favorite, the Beach Bum plays Jamaican (note the chef’s intentional ingredient redundancy for efficiency) with a sweet and spicy jerk sauce, a dry rub on the meat, candied pepper bacon and a perky piña colada slaw that’s not overly fruity but suggestive at least. Or, just fun, as intended — er, um, driven.