For fans of fried chicken, Section 17's new Soul Byrd is something to squawk about: Southern fried wings, legs and sandwiches with inspirations that span New Orleans to Nashville, swathed in swirls of herbs and spices that'll make the Colonel envious, paired with the Klang Valley's sultriest parade of habanero-fuelled hot sauces, conceived by a Chicago-born chef who nearly became a nuclear engineer before fate redirected him from reactor cores to rack ovens.
Soul Byrd is all about American soul food, with a setting that reflects Deep South traditions, from haint blue walls influenced by the pale cerulean colour that Georgians once painted their porch ceilings to stave off ghoulish spirits to lacy ironwork railings that represent Louisiana's French Quarter filigree.
Soul Byrd promises plenty of customisation possibilities for poultry pleasure.
It all begins with 24-hour buttermilk-brined, beautifully breaded chicken in a choice of wings and drumettes (RM20 for six pieces, RM35 for 12, RM50 for 18), whole leg (RM20 for a drumstick and thigh), chicken sandwich (RM20) or nuggets (RM12.50 for 120 grams' worth, RM17.50 for 240 grams).
The fowl is fried fresh to order and showered with spices, in four heat-seeking levels that escalate from Mild to Hot, Soul Byrd Hot, and Nashville. Too chicken for chillies? Try the tame Country Salt & Pepper, which channels Chinese chiu yim preparations.
Finally, select a hot sauce to pair with the chicken, also scaling the Scoville scale from Amba to Green, Yellow, Going Bananas, Red Hot Mamma and Whistlin' Woman.
Side dishes include a soothing succotash of sweet corn with tomatoes, cucumber and okra (RM6.50) and absolutely addictive deep-fried mac and cheese, crisp to the bite and creamy to the chew (RM13).
Soul Byrd's fried chicken is top-flight - love at first crunch, lust to the final dripping juices.
The succulent, clean-tasting meat is made robust with spice blends propelled primarily by Cameron Highlands-cultivated habaneros, up to 100 times hotter than jalapeños. Have a habanero whole to suffer pain beyond measure.
Thankfully, chef Tim 'TJ" Jay (whom KL's patrons last saw at the tropical-themed Joloko restaurant) has made these peppers palatable, proportioning them with chipotles, chile pasilla, cili padi and other chillies for his seasonings.
If you favour gentle spices, the Creole-inspired Mild flavour features more herbs and less heat, tinged with thyme, oregano and parsley. But many Malaysians accustomed to sambals and curries should have little trouble starting with Soul Byrd Hot, with Szechuan peppercorn notes.
The fever and firepower truly kick in with the next step, the hot sauces.
Soul Byrd's chicken are distinctive in the Southern-fried style that's crackly- and crumbly-coated, without too thick a batter, succulently tasty to the core, served steaming-hot at the table.
The hot sauces take things to the next level, energised by habaneros fermented for up to two months for greater depth. Chef TJ has worked with these peppers so much, he has even endured their scorching burn on his arms despite being protected by gloves.
Each sauce is thoughtfully balanced with a bevy of ingredients - the Amba is mellowly tangy with pickled mango, while others are laced with anything from cardamom to fenugreek, yielding nuanced flavours.
Our favourite hot sauce is Going Bananas, fruity-sweet with pronounced notes of bananas, woven with lychee, tomato and ginger. We're also instant fans of the limited-edition Three Legged Toad, an Asian hot sauce featuring soy sauce, fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce with apple cider and orange puree.
The hottest of these hot sauces are the Red Hot Mamma, guaranteed to make you sweat at least a little, and the Whistlin' Woman, for temperatures that raise the roof.
Several sauces are available for purchase in bring-home bottles (RM12-RM18 each) - they'd be wonderfully versatile enough to enhance practically every protein, rice or noodles.
TJ says the fried chicken travels reasonably well, making for convenient takeouts for the family - kids of all ages will certainly enjoy the hefty chicken sandwich and moreish nuggets.
Check out Soul Byrd's cake counter too while you're here - TJ insists he isn't a baker, but his Hummingbird makes us think he should launch a cake shop next.
His rendition of the banana-pineapple spice cake (the original won the Favourite Cake Award at the 1978 Kentucky State Fair) could be our favourite in all of KL and Selangor, moist and just engagingly rich enough, with walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Wash down with an Arnold Palmer, a layered drink of iced tea and lemonade.
Many thanks to Soul Byrd for having us here.
19, Jalan 17/45, Seksyen 17, 46400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 1130am-9pm. Tel: 012-802-5584