Celebrated chef Van Hurd is excited about the chance to bring Southern fried chicken and other Southern specialties to West Hartford at Citizen Chicken & Donuts, which opened Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021.
By Ronni Newton
Hartford Baking Company owner Scott Kluger doesn’t do anything half-baked, and while his expertise with bread and pastries is a natural fit for the “donut” part of his new project, he’s brought in noted chef Van Hurd, a former Hell’s Kitchen participant who grew up in Texas, to ensure the deliciousness of the “chicken” side of Citizen Chicken & Donuts, and to oversee the venture.
The transition of Hartford Baking Company’s original shop, at 625 New Park Ave. in West Hartford, began right after Christmas, and on Feb. 6, the scent of doughnuts and chicken filled the air as the new Citizen Chicken & Donuts restaurant officially opened.
“I’m excited to take everything I’ve learned in the past 10 years and apply it to something new,” Kluger said. Elements of Hartford Baking Company – including the brioche buns which will be the base for both egg and chicken sandwiches – will remain on the menu.
Hurd, a contestant on the sixth as well as the 17th seasons of Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” has lived in Connecticut for 12 years, lured to the Nutmeg State by fellow contestant Kevin Cottle. Always game for a challenge, Hurd collaborated with Cottle at the Country Club of Farmington, opened Sayulita in Glastonbury, and has been the executive chef at Taino Smokehouse. In the winter of 2020, he was hired as the executive chef for Riverhouse Catering – but the pandemic quickly squelched the success of that venture.
“I’ve done Mexican, barbecue, but now I’m doing fried chicken,” Hurd said. “I’m bringing ‘Southern’ to Connecticut.”
The tagline for Citizen Chicken & Donuts is “Donuts by Day, Chicken by Night,” and Hurd is over-the-top excited about the chicken, but equally excited about putting his touch on the doughnuts.
“I love doughnuts. I feel like the sky’s the limit, the world is our oyster,” said Hurd. “We’re going to start out simple, then rev up.”
Although there are some “basic” doughnut varieties like old-fashioned cake, cinnamon sugar, and chocolate cake, and the New England favorite Boston Creme, there are already some “fancy” doughnuts on the menu like the “Bedrock” (topped with Fruity Pebbles), the Homer Simpson (with raspberry sprinkles), Maple Bacon, and Crispy Chocolate. And, there are Honey Buns.
The yeasty, raised doughnuts are started in the Hartford Baking Company commissary in Bloomfield, and then brought to Citizen where they are proofed (the final part of the rising process which ensures that the doughnut will hold an indentation without collapsing) and then fried. The cake doughnuts are being made completely at the New Park Avenue site.
Hurd’s Southern heritage will really be on display for the savory side of the menu, which includes his own recipes for chicken, collard greens, mac and cheese, and mashed potatoes and gravy. There are six different sauces, including a “comeback sauce,” BBQ, and spicy Buffalo.
“It’s good, old-fashioned comfort food – sticks to your ribs,” Hurd said.
What’s unique about the chicken? “It’s just properly buttermilk fried chicken,” Hurd said. “Like grandma used to make.” It’s moist on the inside, and crispy, not greasy, on the outside.
There’s a gluten-free variety as well, coated in rice flour and prepared in a separate fryer.
Chicken sandwiches are served with comeback sauce and pickles on a Hartford Baking Company brioche bun. A chicken on a doughnut sandwich will be added to the menu soon, Hurd said.
There’s also a vegetarian version, a “chicken-fried cauliflower steak” sandwich.
Chicken, served with bread and pickles, is available in two-piece, four-piece, eight-piece, and bucket servings. And the sides, which also include slaw and French fries, come in 8-, 16-, and 32-ounce servings ideal for family-style takeout meals.
The “bread” served with the chicken is actually Parker House rolls, rather than cornbread or biscuits.
“They’re one of only two breads we make with egg and dairy in it,” said Mike Moriarity, operations chief of Hartford Baking Company.
“We’ve got the best wings,” Hurd added. They’re battered and fried, and a variety of portion sizes from three to 24 are on the menu.
The collard greens are a nod to Hurd’s heritage. “I love collard greens. They’re one of my favorite traditions. Grandma always used to make collard greens.”
The first part of the day will focus on the doughnuts, as well as an assortment of egg sandwiches – served on Hartford Baking Company’s brioche buns, as well as, of course, on a doughnut.
Doughnuts will be available all day, but the transition to the chicken will begin at 11 a.m.
Hurd said he’s always wanted to do Southern food. “I just like to make people happy with my food,” and Southern food definitely fits the bill – and is particularly welcome during the pandemic.
The coffee is from Canton-based Giv, and available all day. Kluger said Giv has recently created a signature blend for Hartford Baking Company called “Born and Bread” which they will serve at Citizen Chicken & Donuts, along with hot and iced tea, and soda by the bottle.
Kluger said he’ll be pursuing a license so beer can be served on the premises, but for now it’s BYOB.
For anyone still hungry, there’s dessert, too: chocolate chip cookies and pecan blondies.
Hurd said there’s nothing like Citizen Chicken & Donuts in the area, or even in the state. The closest is Philadelphia’s Federal Donuts. He’s hoping that franchising is in Citizen’s future.
The menu can be found as a PDF below and on the website citizenchicken.com.
Citizen Chicken & Donuts is located at 625 New Park Ave., and is open seven days a week from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Their phone number is 860-996-8500, and more information can also be found on Instagram (@citizenchickenanddonuts) or Facebook.
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