Chick'n Bubbly Pittsburgh

Chicken and beer is very popular in Korea right now. But, since this is the Commonwealth and it’s expensive and grueling to apply for a liquor or beer license, Chick’n Bubbly went for the next best thing with “bubbles”: pearl milk tea. Sure, bubble tea is from Taiwan, not Korea. But how many Pittsburghers care about that?

On a street that is filled with Asian restaurants, this place fits right in, yet specializes in a product everyone is familiar with: fried chicken. One of the owners of the new franchise is Mr. Choi, also the owner of the neighboring Oishii Bento (Korean/Japanese fare). I wondered why the same owner would pull a Starbucks move and open a restaurant right next door to one of their already existing businesses. Wouldn’t this gouge their own sales? Then it occurred to me that Oishii is already so successful and busy (with long lines during lunch and dinner) that it will almost be like an overflow room for Choi’s customers to enjoy his food without the wait.

Choi told me that most of the customers in Oakland are in a hurry. They are students and workers who need to grab lunch and get back to what they were doing. So he created a system to let these folks get in and out quickly without having to compromise on taste and health. Chick’n Bubbly will only have 9 seats but most of the business will be to-go orders. They thought of everything. From the chicken box designed with a handle to the special spill-proof sealed bubble tea lids.

The combination of Korean style fried chicken and Taiwanese bubble tea is like crack.

Dear vegetarians, your only saving grace here (as of now) would be the french fries. Mr. Choi said “we are working hard to introduce a vegetarian option to our customers, but need more time. We have a separate fryer just for vegetarian stuff.” Very few restaurants in Pittsburgh can say they have a fryer dedicated to meatless items. That’s an incredibly big deal, and is something even the biggest players don’t do for their customers (Mad Mex for example).

Chick’n Bubbly has garnered a mini cult-like following with their carefully timed Facebook and Twitter posts. They never posted a full menu, only a tagline that indicated their two main offerings. Just when everyone was getting fed up and started asking for the full lineup, they posted what they called top-secret “spy shots” of the menu. This built up even more anticipation, and created a sense of being part of the journey to open. In short, I have to say that following their social media has been fun and engaging, the way social media is meant to be. Bravo to C’n B.

There has been no public mention of an opening date on the Chick’n Bubbly website or Facebook page. But on Thursday morning, they suddenly posted a photo of chicken in a deep fryer, with a message saying there would be free samples given out at 12:30. Like the other 20 people who where there when I was, I got a free taste. The sample piece of chicken was a huge drumstick drenched in sweet and spicy sauce. It was probably the best drumstick I’ve ever had in my life. A guy wearing an Oishii t-shirt was also handing out never-before-seen menus and announcing that Monday will begin the soft opening. A Grand Opening is scheduled for August 25th, 2014 – the same day school starts.

I only had the chicken so far, but I’m looking forward to trying the entire menu. Oh, the menu! I don’t think I’ve seen a more meticulously designed menu. It’s modern, bright, easy to read. Most of the restaurants in Pittsburgh could really use some help from the Chick’n Bubbly design team! They did beautiful work on this one. As far as the interior of the restaurant, it’s clear that they invested tons of money to transform what used to be a nail salon into what is easily the nicest place on the street. The space is not huge, but the stained wood planks against a burnt orange background, two nicely positioned LCD screens with a digital menu and an open view into the kitchen makes for a very comfortable feel. No offense, Oakland, but the interior of Chick’n Bubbly looks too good for you. They even have a garage door which hopefully will expand the seating out to the sidewalk.

Update: another free sample session is going on Saturday 7/26/14 starting at 12:30pm

Where is it?
Chick’n Bubbly
117 Oakland Ave. (map)
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

When will they open?
Monday, July 28, 2014

What are their hours?
Monday – Saturday 11:00am – 10:00pm

Chick'n Bubbly Korean Style Fried Chicken

Chick'n Bubbly Menu