New Korean fried chicken restaurant is open. Here’s a first look (spoiler: it’s awesome)
Two months ago, Mija Chang stood in the half-assembled dining room of BB.Q Olive Chicken in Lakewood and worried about the final details of opening her Korean fried chicken restaurant with her sister Mi Young Kang.
This week, there was nothing to worry about except serving the rush of customers who checked out the first day of business Monday (August 10, 2020) at the new Lakewood restaurant and bar. They’re officially open for business from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily at 8722 South Tacoma Way.
BB.Q Olive Chicken is sandwiched between the Korean grocery store HMart and Kyoto, Lakewood’s best sushi restaurant.
The new Korean fried chicken restaurant is tucked into an extensive Korean dining district in Lakewood that’s home to four Korean grocery stores, Korean barbecue restaurants Daewon Garden, Palace BBQ, Cham Garden Buffet, New Gangnam and Chung Ki Wa, and soup shops Ho Soon Yi, Cheong Guk Jang and Cho Dang Tofu. Did I mention the Korean dessert stops T-Town and Coffee Kitchen? And that’s not even a complete list of Korean destinations in Lakewood along a two-mile stretch of South Tacoma Way. I’ve spent 15 years grazing my way through Lakewood’s Korean restaurant district and there’s still so much more to discover. I’m working on it.
KOREAN FRIED CHICKEN IN LAKEWOOD
Korean fried chicken has ebbed and flowed in Lakewood for years. Old timers (LIKE ME) remember when Chicky Pub operated along with MoMo Hof Cafe and Kko Kko Place, joined by Song Song in recent years. All those are gone now with Kko Kko Place the last Korean fried chicken pub standing.
While Kko Kko Place offers something of an excellent dive bar experience with delicious sticky fried chicken and K-Pop blaring on television screens hanging in the private dining booths, Kko Kko is also a small enclave and a much different experience than the new BB.Q Olive Chicken. Fun fact: BB.Q is not shorthand for barbecue, it stands for “best of the best quality.” You’ll see that tagline hanging on the wall as a neon sign at every location.
BB.Q Olive Chicken is expansive and handsome with a sharp decor and a tried-and-true recipe from the international chain that started in 1995 in Korea and landed in America 2014. There are locations on East and West Coasts with franchises locally in Lynnwood, Seattle, Tukwila and Federal Way.
This is the first Pierce County location.
BRINGING BB.Q OLIVE CHICKEN TO LAKEWOOD
Mija Chang and Mi Young Kang were vacationing in Los Angeles when they first experienced a BB.Q Olive Chicken specializing in what they described as the tastiest Korean chicken they’ve ever had. They’re huge fried chicken fans with a penchant for Popeye’s chicken. The business owners – they already operate a convenience store in Gig Harbor – were wanting to open their own restaurant. When they learned they could franchise their own BB.Q Olive Chicken, they started scouting locations.
THE LAKEWOOD BB.Q OLIVE CHICKEN
They decided on the former New World night club because of its high-traffic location. They remodeled the space down to the studs, invested a lot of money in the kitchen infrastructure, and added a stylish decor in shades of grey with brick accents and a bar backdrop of glossy white subway tile.
Four-top tables can be pushed together to create spaces for large dining parties (when that’s allowed again), which is the best way to enjoy Korean fried chicken. At BB.Q Olive Chicken, the fried chicken is served in half-chicken or full-chicken orders and meant to be sampled and shared with a cold pitcher of beer.
Pendant drop lighting adds a bit of warmth to the space with high ceilings. It’s a bustling dining room with family-friendly seating and an extensive list of Soju and a nice selection of Korean beers (they’re still working on getting more taps going) for grown-ups.
Korean fried chicken, to you novices, is an import-export story. It’s Southern-fried chicken exported from America to Seoul, transformed into a Korean staple with the addition of Korean flavors and spicing, then imported back to the United States as a bar staple.
I interviewed cookbook author Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee years ago and what she told me stuck: Korean fried chicken can be spicy or salty, but always crispy. There are a few ways to achieve that and one way is a double cook.
“You completely fry it, then dry it out, then use cornstarch instead of flour (in the breading) so you get the crispness,” she told me in 2012. The second trip into the deep flyer seals that signature crunch, she said.
The recipes and techniques BB.Q Olive Chicken uses are guarded secrets, but there is one signature ingredient operators will talk about: Olive oil. The franchise uses an olive oil blend to fry the chicken, which is always fresh, never frozen, and hand breaded in house.
That signature crunch is a common theme for all the fried chicken I’ve sampled at the Lakewood and Federal Way locations. While Lakewood opened this week, Federal Way’s location has been operating for a few months.
THE MENU AT BB.Q OLIVE CHICKEN
They’re in soft opening mode with the menu still in the works, so go in knowing they’re ramping up the offerings (and please be nice about it, this is a difficult time to open a restaurant).
Listed on the menu are 10 styles of Korean fried chicken served in half ($13.99 to $15.99) or whole chicken ($26.99 to $28.99) portion sizes. This is chicken served in a basket meant to be ordered in batches and sampled among friends (or, for now, only members of your household, under current dining restrictions. There is no outdoor dining at BB.Q Olive Chicken).
Between a visit to the Federal Way and Lakewood locations, I’ve sampled six of the 10 varieties available.
Chicken orders are served as a selection of bone-in wings, drums, thighs and small-portioned breasts and they’re fried until perfectly crunchy, but super juicy inside. All the versions I’ve tried that were available were breaded and fried, but grilled chicken is listed on the menu as coming soon.
As for the selection of breaded fried chicken, the hot spicy chicken is true to the name with spicing that is the real deal for heat seekers (I suffered through meat sweats, and it was worth it).
I thought that would be the spiciest of the varieties I tried until I got the Mala fried chicken at the Lakewood location. Fueled by Sichuan peppercorns, there’s a slight numbing effect with a long-lasting sting. That super spicy chicken carries a delicious, sticky coating that will require 10 napkins and a dab of water to remove. Your mouth will burn for several minutes after trying that one. You’ve been warned.
The secret spicy fried chicken tastes as tangy and sticky as the hot spicy chicken recipe, but that heat is more subdued with an emphasis on the sweeter side of that recipe.
The soy garlic fried chicken was mildly spiced and flavored heavily with fermented soy sauce, which deepened the salty oomph of this salty-sweet version of fried chicken.
The Gang-Jeong fried chicken was my favorite sampled with a sweetened sauce and a super sticky glaze that was medium spiced and adorned with fresh-sliced jalapenos. There was a rich depth to that sweet sauce that felt familiar – was that hoisin I tasted?
Golden fried chicken is a great first-time order or for kids or anybody not liking much spice. It comes with a heavy crunch and a sauce that is as sticky as honey, with very little spice.
From the appetizer menu, don’t miss the chewy cheese balls, which are something like fried Korean cheese curds with a chewy exterior and creamy, gooey cheesy interior ($5.99). And if you’re doing it right, you’ll also order the spicy dukk bokki, a soup with chewy, thick-cut rice cake topped with an egg in a fiery broth ($9.99).
The appetizer menu also includes classic pub fare – French fries ($4.99), cheesy French fries ($5.99), onion rings ($6.99) and mozzarella sticks ($8.99). There are also a few rice dishes available, including kimchi fried rice ($9.99).
Entree items listed as coming soon include chicken served over rice and other rice dishes ($10.99 to $11.99), plus fried and grilled chicken sandwiches served with fries ($9.99 to $10.99). Salads also are coming soon ($6.99 to $7.99).
The beverage selection includes four choices on tap – Coors, Mac and Jack and Space Dust with the Korean beer called Kloud listed, but it was out on my visit. The bottle selection includes 8 choices with Korean options of Hite or Cass. Soju includes 8 choices, all priced $13. There’s also hard seltzer and a nice selection of fountain soda.
BB.Q OLIVE CHICKEN
Where: 8722 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood; 253-507-5427
Details: All-ages and family friendly, open daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Franchise info: https://bbdotqchicken.com/locations/
OPENING THIS FRIDAY: GILMAN HOUSE
Did you read my story in June about the opening of Gilman House in Tacoma’s Stadium neighborhood? You’re hearing it first (aside from my Patreon subscribers) – it’s officially opening this Friday (August 14, 2020) at 5 p.m. I’ll have more details at my website this week, but read the background story about Gilman House here.