Food & Drink

Reviews: DeeLuxe Chicken, Heirloom Brewshop offer fresh spins on counter-service fare

DeeLuxe Chicken in Durham, left, and Heirloom Brewshop in Raleigh, right, are at opposite ends of the restaurant spectrum except for one key trait : each puts a refreshing new spin on the counter service restaurant experience.
DeeLuxe Chicken in Durham, left, and Heirloom Brewshop in Raleigh, right, are at opposite ends of the restaurant spectrum except for one key trait : each puts a refreshing new spin on the counter service restaurant experience. jleonard@newsobserver.com

From pretty much every angle, DeeLuxe Chicken and Heirloom Brewshop are at opposite ends of the restaurant spectrum.

One is a made-for-cloning fast-casual concept developed by veteran restaurateurs with experience in franchising. The other, the brainchild of a young husband-and-wife team, is a unique combination of restaurant, tearoom, coffee shop and sake bar that defies categorization.

One stays close to home for inspiration for a menu that stars Southern fried chicken, with a supporting cast of burgers and soft serve ice cream. The other looks to its owners’ roots in Asia for inspiration.

One sports a colorful, trendy fast food eatery vibe, while the other oozes an almost Zen-like serenity. One is in Durham, the other in Raleigh.

But DeeLuxe Chicken and Heirloom Brewshop share at least one key trait: Each in its own way puts a refreshing new spin on the counter service restaurant experience.

DeeLuxe Chicken

1116 Broad St., Durham

919-294-8128 or deeluxechicken.com

DeeLuxe Chicken is a joint venture of multiple James Beard Award nominee Scott Howell and Rick Robinson, a veteran chef/restaurateur who most recently owned two Rise biscuit franchises.

Offering a 21st century take on its namesake Southern fried chicken, boneless chicken breasts are marinated for 24 hours in a blend of buttermilk and spices before getting dredged and deep-fried to a juicy, crunchy-crusted turn. They’re featured in several sandwich variations, from The Purist (topped with pickles only, and as the menu points out, “available on Sundays, too!”) to Way Out East (cabbage and kimchi slaw, and hoisin mayo).

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The Deeluxe chicken sandwich at Deeluxe Chicken in Durham is made up of buttermilk fried chicken breast with apple-celery root slaw and sambal mayo. It is served here with a side of shoestring sweet potato fries with chili spice and a mojito. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

You can also get chicken breast, tenders, wings — even fried shrimp or catfish — in a basket, served with Texas toast and your choice of side. It’s hard to choose just one side (or two, if you opt for seafood). Chili-spiced sweet potato fries are a deservedly popular option. Spicy Asian cucumbers are another winning bet, as is Velveeta mac and cheese with “tasty crunchies” (little umami shards of panko and parmesan).

You can get your burger fix here, too. Made with house-ground quarter-pound patties, grilled diner-style on a flattop griddle and served on a buttered and toasted bun, the burgers are so good the owners could have called the place DeeLuxe Chicken & Burgers.

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For dessert, order a soft serve cone at Deeluxe Chicken in Durham. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Burgers are offered in as many variations as the chicken sandwiches, too, with options ranging from the fast food classic Single Stack Cheeseburger (lettuce, tomato, dill pickles and the house take on “special sauce”) to Spicy Smokehouse, loaded with bacon, smoked gouda, charred jalapeño mayo, sweet pickles and chipotle BBQ sauce.

There’s a vegetarian Portobello Burger, too, with Swiss cheese and a sprinkling of those tasty crunchies.

Health conscious customers who have somehow wandered into a place specializing in fried chicken and burgers have a surprising number of options. Opt for citrus-marinated grilled chicken instead of fried, and get it (or a grilled portobello) on your choice of three meal-size salads: House, Pacific Rim, or South of the Border.

Then you needn’t feel guilty when you indulge in a soft-serve cone or an old-fashioned milkshake. Or even an adult beverage for kids over 21: a fresh juice cocktail from the Boozy Bubbler, which dispenses your choice of three quenchers. Make mine a mojito, please.

Heirloom Brewshop

219 S. West St., Raleigh

919-297-8299 or heirloombrewshop.com

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Heirloom Brewshop’s deceptively modest menu covers a diverse territory with fewer than a dozen listings. Most of the seasonally changing offering is vegetarian, vegan and/or gluten-free, making them an epicurean nirvana for healthy lifestyles. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

You might say Chuan Tsay and Anna Phommavong are a match made in culinary heaven. Both are children of Asian immigrants (Taiwan and Laos, respectively), and both grew up in families in the restaurant business in small towns in North Carolina. The husband-and-wife team opened Heirloom Brewshop, their first joint venture, last October in downtown Raleigh’s Warehouse District on the first floor of the Dillon building.

Coffee house, tea room, sake bar and restaurant rolled into one, Heirloom draws on its owners’ culinary roots in Asia as well as their lives growing up in America. The result is greater than the sum of its parts.

The deceptively modest menu covers a diverse territory with fewer than a dozen listings. Most of the seasonally changing offering is vegetarian, vegan and/or gluten-free, making Heirloom Brewshop an epicurean nirvana for healthy lifestyles.

A chilled noodle salad is a sure cure for the sweltering late summer blues, serving up a tangle of thin, crisp julienne vegetables and translucent shirataki noodles lightly dressed in a sweet chili sauce beneath a crunchy carpet of crushed peanuts.

Korokke, vegetarian croquettes available in three variations (try the Japanese vegetable curry), are a winning option any time of year. So is salt and pepper tofu, double-fried Taiwanese style. And a vegan pairing of mapo tofu and mushroom rice bowl, served with garlic pickled carrots, is so satisfying you won’t miss the ground pork that’s customary in a traditional mapo tofu.

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Heirloom Brewshop’s mochi donuts are delicate wreaths of rice flour and tofu pastry, available in three flavors: strawberry-limeade, yuzu mint, and Lao tea glaze. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Carnivorous cravings are well served by Taiwanese-style fried chicken: boneless nuggets in a crunchy, white-peppery crust, served over a rice bowl laced with pork jus. I haven’t yet tried the pork belly with quail egg, but after seeing the dish at a neighboring table, it’s at the top of my list for a future visit.

And you can bet I’ll be ordering some more mochi doughnuts. Delicate wreaths of rice flour and tofu pastry, they’re available in three flavors: strawberry-limeade, yuzu mint and Lao tea glaze. I’ve had the first two, going for the trifecta next time.

Lao fog tea, enriched with sweetened condensed milk, would be a natural pairing for the doughnuts. It’s one of selection of teas that covers the Asian spectrum from Chinese gunpowder to Japanese matcha latte.

Then again, it’s tempting to see that pretty pink espresso machine in action again. The brightest object in a setting of pristine white tables, pale natural woodwork and tropical greenery, the machine turns out a wicked brown sugar and five spice latte.

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