If you’re walking down Clark Street hankering for some fried chicken (and really, isn’t that everyone, all the time?) and you happen upon a shuttered Big Jones (Andersonville, 5347 N. Clark St.), don’t panic. Big Jones isn’t a casualty of the Great Restaurant Purge of 2018: The acclaimed southern restaurant is closed, but just for a few weeks, as a massive renovation of the kitchen, the dining room and, to some extent, of the menu is currently underway.
“We’ve been working in a very difficult space for ten years,” chef Paul Fehribach says. “We’re running whole-hog charcuterie, a bakery, all of these things in this cramped little space.” When Big Jones opened in 2008, Fehribach didn’t have the money to do a full kitchen renovation, so he did what most chefs do: made the existing space work. Given Big Jones’s incredibly ambitious “made in house” ethos (they make all their own charcuterie, breads, pickles, and condiments), this made life often miserable for the kitchen staff.
Not any more. The entire kitchen is being gutted and rebuilt, and a brand new prep kitchen is being built in the basement. In addition, the wall between the kitchen and dining room is being ripped out so that a chef’s counter can be added. Diners at this six-to-eight-seat counter might find higher-end tasting menus at dinner, a biscuit bar at brunch or a meat and three selection at lunch. “We’re going to do some really special things,” said Fehribach.
Mostly, the kitchen renovation will allow Fehribach to stretch his creative muscles. Big Jones is best known for serving southern classics like fried chicken, shrimp and grits and biscuits, but Fehribach has always tried to showcase antique Southern recipes tied to a time and place—he calls it “narrative dining.” “I want to drop diners in 1885 New Orleans or Savannah in 1840 and draw a menu,” he explained. “Fried chicken has sucked a lot of the air out of the room.”
In addition to these older inspirations (which Fehribach jokingly refers to as “lost-cause Southern foodieism”), Fehribach wants to reimagine his menu with more tastes of the modern global South. “When you go to the South now, you get fried chicken tacos, or pho with fried chicken. Southern cuisine has always been a melting pot, a big Creole gumbo of cultures, and we want to be more on that end of things.” Expect more African and Caribbean inspirations, as well as flavors from the cuisines causing “delicious shock waves” in the South, like Vietnamese, Chinese, and Central American.
The restaurant is currently closed, and will be shut down for a few weeks—this is a pretty big construction project. Expect a late-March re-opening. And don’t worry: Even after all the changes, you’ll still be able to get some of the best fried chicken in town.