Who would like a perfectly crisp chili fried chicken? Turns out, a lot of people in Brooklyn.
Pecking House opened on September 9 on the edge of Park Slope and Prospect Heights to a packed house, the best kind of welcome a neighborhood could offer to Eric Huang and Maya Ferrante, who'd been running an insanely popular fried chicken operation out of Queens. Now they can walk to their restaurant if they want to.
During the last two years, Pecking House, a nomadic kitchen, churned out 150 pounds of chicken daily and still had a months-long waiting list. Huang had planned to open an upscale Chinese restaurant, building on his experience with his fine background at Eleven Madison Park. Then the pandemic hit, and everything changed.
What Huang created on a whim in his uncle's pandemic-closed kitchen at Peking House in Queens, he told Esquire, became an overnight success, and soon Huang had brought on Maya Ferrante, with whom he had worked at the Gramercy Tavern. Within a year, they were looking for a more permanent space, and they knew exactly where.
"We weren't using DoorDash, GrubHub, or Uber Eats, so we knew where most of our deliveries were going," Ferrante said. "A good chunk of our consistent orders came from Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Windsor Terrace, Cobble Hill. So it just made sense for us to look around there. And this location is perfect - it's great to be able to walk home."
The plan was to open by April, but these days, the best-laid plans keep getting disrupted - getting approvals in a city where every agency is short-staffed was an epic undertaking, adding months to the process. "Everyone warned me about the liquor license," he laughed, "but that was the easy bit." What proved most challenging was running a restaurant while trying to open a physical location.
"Being a nomadic restaurant is not terribly fun. All your stuff is everywhere, and getting your team and all your supplies and equipment to one place is really, really difficult," Huang says. "So, as chaotic as the construction was, when finally the paper came down in the windows, and we were able to see the view the first time – that was really amazing."
"We were about an hour and a half away from opening, and we were still painting, and drilling lights in, and construction was still happening. And there were people outside. They're like, "Did we get the day wrong? Is it tomorrow?" We're like, "No, no, it's happening right now." That was about 30 seconds of great excitement, calm, and happiness before we got right back to finishing the bar."
It has been both exciting and humbling to be open, they say.
"It's great to see people getting to enjoy our food," Ferrante says, after being delivery-only for so long. "As a chef or cook, you put your heart and soul into it. And now we have a dining room with an open kitchen where we can see that and interact with our guests and our team."
"It continues to feel amazing to have a full dining room, the energy, the noise," Huang says. "There's no pretense to it. I'm incredibly grateful. It feels really good. And we are not taking it for granted."
One person who's yet to visit? Huang's mom. Their families have been very supportive and understanding of the crazy hours they have been keeping, and they are grateful, but Eric would like her to visit her 'grandchild' very much.
For now, the restaurant is open for dine-in only and very limited takeout, but bigger plans are already on the horizon.
"We'll have more than one location; that was always the plan. Where? We're looking from Inwood to Flatbush," Ferrante laughs.
One thing that will not change no matter where they end up will be the chili fried chicken.