More than three years after he opened his first restaurant, chef Darnell Reed — the owner of Luella’s Southern Kitchen in Lincoln Square — has signed a lease to open a second restaurant with a fried chicken focus. Reed plans on opening Luella’s Gospel Bird sometime between October and November in Bucktown. It’s at the former Sublime Sushi spot at 2009 N. Damen Avenue.
The “Soul Food Scholar” Adrian Miller wrote a book, Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time, that inspired Reed. The book details how fried chicken became a special occasion meal for African Americans living in the South. The labor-intensive item was often served on Sunday after church and Southerners began calling it a “gospel bird.” Reed liked the sound of that and intends to reach out to Miller to thank him for the inspiration.
When Reed’s new restaurant opens he’ll have three types of chicken available. There’s his traditional buttermilk fried chicken that he serves at Luella’s. He’ll also have a smoked jerk chicken. Then there’s the restaurant’s namesake: the Gospel Bird. Reed will take his traditional fried chicken and drench it with a creole sauce made of Crystal hot sauce, creole seasoning, and Worcestershire sauce. The recipe’s not from a particular state, it’s just about bold flavors.
“It will have a certain level of spice, but not overpowering,” Reed said.
Luella’s has been a hit since opening in 2015, serving a mix of Southern food — from gumbo, to tamales, to fried chicken — at 4609 N. Lincoln Avenue. Reed financed his first restaurant by himself. An investor, who prefers to stay silent, approached Reed and asked if he had a scalable concept, and thus Luella’s Gospel Bird was born. More locations and restaurants could open. Reed has an idea for “Luella’s Low and Slow.” It would feature braised and smoked meats.
Just like at Luella’s in Lincoln Square, he’ll serve chicken and waffles at Gospel Bird. Reed’s also working on a Georgia-style shrimp and grits that will differ from the New Orleans-inspired shrimp and grits he serves on Lincoln Avenue. This new dish features Slagel Farms bacon, cheddar, and house-milled grits.
The Damen Avenue space is small, but weekend brunch will be a specialty. Reed’s got a special French toast recipe but he’s most excited about a new take on biscuits and gravy. Reed described his twist, something he’s never seen before: They’ll serve it with beef short rib that’s been braised for hours. They’ll then deep fry the meat and crisp it. Side dishes include maple candied yams, mac and cheese, and more.
Just after Luella’s Southern Kitchen opened, Reed and his girlfriend welcomed their first child. Their second child was born last month. Now comes news of a second restaurant. Reed senses a pattern developing.
“I do have other ideas,” Reed said with a laugh. “Let’s wait and see if it all works out.”