When Proposition Chicken opened in San Francisco in 2013, from the first part of its name to the lingo used inside, it obviously had a theme having to do with choice – as in which way patrons wanted their chicken – but a greater part of the message was never explained.
Now that a second location is opening in Oakland on Wednesday, Sept. 13 – and maybe because of the current situation we as a nation now find ourselves in – at a recent media preview, one of its owners, Ari Feingold explained in more detail what the theme is really about.
Feingold is also the co-owner of Straw, the circus-themed restaurant in San Francisco. And, he handled all the food vendors for Outside Lands for nearly a decade.
The explanation of the theme wasn’t in the slick press kit offered on a thumb drive, and almost wasn’t discussed at all. It was late and offered almost as an afterthought; nearly everyone had gone home. But after a lengthy explanation as to why, when everything else was sourced hyper-locally, he chose to get his rolls shipped from Philadelphia, Feingold offered the explanation behind the theme. This would have been a totally different story without it.
“I had the menu already figured out, and I like themes, as long as they’re tasteful, but I wished he would just keep frying chicken and shut up.”
It’s why there are strong words on the walls of Proposition Chicken, beginning with the cheeky: "This chicken goes three ways" to the statement that they are for “The Right to Choose: Choose your style, your chicken, who you marry, what you do with your body” and they are against “people against equality” among other things.
“The idea seems so silly to use your chicken restaurant as a platform to be against something,” said Feingold. “So I thought, I have a platform by owning a restaurant, and we’ll be for equality instead.”
At his other two restaurants, 10 percent of all proceeds on Monday nights go to an area non-profit, making a difference in the local community each month; the same will be true for Proposition Chicken in Oakland. For the first two months, the recipient is Oakland’s Hip Hop for Change, an organization that “uses grassroots activism to educate people about socio-economic injustices and advocate solutions through hip hop culture.”
Proposition Chicken offers chicken cooked either rotisserie style (they call it flipped, so it fits in with its alliterative scheme) fried or fake, which is actually tofu. You can have it either in a salad, on a sandwich, or on a plate, with a buttermilk biscuit and salad.
There are also buffalo wings and chicken tenders, and a few sides like brown sugared Brussels sprouts and buttermilk biscuits. The southern touches are a nod to the background of another co-owner, Elizabeth Wells, who hails from Alabama and is also a co-owner of the city’s Southpaw BBQ. The fact that there is matzah ball soup on the menu is a nod to the other two owners, Feingold, and Maxwell Cohen’s Jewish heritage. Feingold noted that the restaurant smells just like the home he grew up in when he’s making said soup – he uses his mom’s recipe – and that the rotisserie chicken, which is brined and then marinated in a rub of spices like paprika, cumin and parsley is like “Shabbos chicken,” meaning the traditional chicken served by his mom on Friday night for Sabbath dinners.
The restaurant uses Mary’s free-range chickens, and butchers them all in house, using raw bones and meat to make the matzah ball soup, and the roasted bones from the rotisserie chicken to make bone broth, a win-win according to Wells, since bone broth is a popular trend right now, and it offers a way to not let anything go to waste.
As for the menu, Wells explained that its simplicity is intentional as “we can focus on things we love, and make sure every bite is delicious.”
Considering how simple the menu is, though, she said, they do offer a diversity of choices, given that one can be satisfied whether they want to be decadent (fried chicken – and they also offer gluten-free fried chicken) – on a roll or healthy (rotisserie chicken on a salad).
While we tried the buffalo wings (just the right amount of heat, not fried) and the fried, flipped and fake in sandwiches, it was hard to judge the chicken on its own merit, since there was so much else going on. We loved both the fried and flipped, but had a disagreement about the fake; whether it was some of the most flavorful tofu ever, or it was overcompensating with too much seasoning.
Wells said that they are discussing offering full birds to take home along with salad and biscuits, to make up a family meal, and may start doing that in Oakland.
They had been looking for a second location for over a year, said Wells, and when they saw the space on Lakeshore, they knew they had found it.
“Being part of a neighborhood and part of a community is really important to us,” said Wells.
As for his decision to use rolls from Amoroso’s, an Italian bakery in his hometown of Philadelphia that’s been in business for over a century, Feingold admitted he had to be careful with his words.
The rolls are a bit squishy, but most importantly, the contents aren't pushed out when you take a bite.
“I’m well-aware that we have some of the best bread in my own backyard,” he said. And while all the rest of their ingredients are hyper-local, down to the salvaged wood used in their build-out, he said that when you toast an Amoroso’s roll with oil and butter, there’s nothing quite like it. “It’s kind of magical,” he said.
“It’s nowhere nearly as refined as any of these far superior operations,” he said, “but food is as much about nostalgia and emotion.”
To him, a fried chicken sandwich belongs in an Amoroso roll, since that’s what he grew up with. “It’s not always about the best, but about what fits.”