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One evening in March 2016, Jake Manny opened his new bar, Sisters and Brothers, in an old brick-faced storefront at the northern tip of Boeing Field, its full-frontal Mount Rainier view interrupted only by the occasional cargo carrier descending onto the runway just across the road—Seattle at its scenic, brawniest, Jet City best. 

But the tale of old-school cooking methods, diners chasing the thrill of the new, and beautiful, ballistically hot fried chicken that unfolded inside is particular to our current-day Seattle. The one that can get a little obsessive about food.

After living in LA and opening a bar in Nashville, Manny wanted to come home; he and Drew Church (a partner in places like Hazlewood and Hotel Albatross) made plans to open a bar in Georgetown. Sisters and Brothers would be the sort of joint where people drank cans of Hamm’s at video game tables or shot the shit over Tecates in dark wood booths surrounded by vintage pennants and black velvet unicorn paintings. Oh, and Manny wanted to serve Nashville hot chicken, the burn-off-your-lips-hot comfort food of his former city. 

As the name implies, hot chicken packs serious fire, stoked by a two-day brine of hot sauce and buttermilk, then maybe 25-odd spices, including four types of pureed peppers and a metric truckload of cayenne so it comes out almost crimson. With each bite, the crust crackles and juice drips from the meat within. If you don’t break into at least a mild sweat, someone in the kitchen isn’t doing his job. 

When assembling the small kitchen staff, Manny threw down a caveat: Real hot chicken isn’t dunked in a fryer and ignored until the timer beeps. It’s cooked in cast-iron Dutch ovens, piece by piece, under someone’s watchful eye. 

The challenge of doing this on a restaurant scale drew chefs Chris Barton and Chris Howell, veterans of Zig Zag Cafe and the Tom Douglas universe. As long as the chicken is done right, Manny told them, the guys had free reign within reason and season. They spent a month cranking the heat on the chicken recipe, devised some eye-popping smoked gouda mac and cheese, and built a wedge salad that’s definitely slumming it here—tender lettuce in a green goddess dressing with thick cubes of bacon (both housemade), plump English peas, and an impeccably soft-cooked egg. 

Frying in cast iron is hard work, but Manny figured a little bar in Georgetown might sell three birds a night. He didn’t even hire servers, just bartenders. 

What Manny didn’t realize, however, was he’d returned to Seattle in a moment when big chef names around the country were launching fried chicken or fried chicken sandwich concepts. New local spots like Fat’s Chicken and Waffles and Bramling Cross had upgraded this most American of foods, and word of Monica Dimas’s impending Sunset Fried Chicken Sandwiches was circulating. Jim Gaffigan’s unsettlingly memorable KFC Nashville hot chicken commercials were on the airwaves. Fried chicken was on our collective mind. And no wonder: It’s a food that reflects the care you put into it, but much like pizza—and, yes, sex—even the okay stuff is pretty good. Manny’s Nashville hot chicken also combines two things Seattle can’t resist—serious spice levels and other regions’ iconic comfort foods. 

And so within days of serving its first basket of wings and thighs, Seattle had recast Manny’s bar as a chicken restaurant, simultaneously under the radar and all anybody could talk about. The kitchen was thoroughly unequipped for the crowds, and the ensuing two-hour waits pissed people off. Chicken that emerged from the frantic kitchen in any less-than-perfect state seemed an affront after all the hype. Food ran out by 7pm. People who showed up excited for chicken left to pen withering Yelp comments. 

“The whole point is that it’s done the right way,” says Manny. “I don’t have a 3D printer. It’s not a magic trick where all of a sudden there’s perfect fried chicken.”

Still, he and his crew knew this unexpected fanfare required a few adjustments. After a tumultuous six-week introduction, Sisters and Brothers settled into itself. Manny hired servers and brought in more cold storage so the kitchen can prep 150 birds a day. Miles James, his childhood friend and the meat impresario behind Dot’s, came in to help with the growing pains. Now on weekends tables are a comfortable sort of full—couples, a few families, lots of beer cans. Staff can still be harried, but they’re cheery when they get around to take your order. 

One sweltering evening, a cook stood before the range in the cramped kitchen, overseeing the formation of four cast-iron Dutch ovens, bubbling with lard. Each one’s thermometer must read between 300 and 350 degrees to deliver chicken crispy on the outside and cooked to juiciness within. “The second you drop in the chicken, that temperature shoots down,” he explained. What followed resembles a game of stovetop foosball, turning the knobs like those little mounted players, simultaneously dialing one burner down and another up, working to keep all four pots within that temperature range. Get too hot and the outside’s burnt, the meat’s undercooked. It happens quicker than you’d think. 

This process is only slightly less frantic than an actual game of foosball and a mightily inefficient way to cook for a crowd. The saga of Sisters and Brothers hits upon a fundamental contradiction that comes with loving food: Like a fleeting season for a beautiful tomato, the very thing that makes its chicken so good is the reason we can’t have it whenever we want. So go early.

Even more glorious fried chicken: Meet five other great new spots

 

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