Big gold “DFC” balloons greeted people in the Hotel Normandie lobby, and even before the doors opened, music was already bumping. This marked my arrival at the first installment of Dante Fried Chicken‘s monthly brunch pop-up, which Chef Dante Gonzales dubbed Big Chicken in Lil’ K-Town. This was a homecoming for Gonzales, whose grandmother moved to Koreatown in the ’60s. He lived in in the neighborhood until he was 13 years old. The ticketed event took place in the sunny Hotel Normandie ballroom and featured high-energy performances by musicians like Akua, Chuck Inglish and Nia Andrews. An open bar, included in the price of admission, dispensed Mimosas, screwdrivers and beer cans like Mama’s Little Yella Pils. The family-style meal included pull-apart pineapple rolls, roasted shishito peppers, fried plantains, Dante’s signature fried chicken, creamy grits with fried okra, chocolate brisket hash with fried eggs, and some of the best fried catfish I’ve eaten outside the South.
Gonzales starts by cleaning catfish fillets with ice water spiked with salt and lemon juice. He said, “Not sure if that does anything it’s what my grandmother always did.” He marinates the fish for 30 minutes in buttermilk and amber ale before tossing in secret spices, some toasted. The batter combines cornmeal, potato flour and crushed banana chips, which adds light sweetness. The deep-fried result is juicy fish. If you’re looking for classic Southern style catfish, with crispy cornmeal crusts, this isn’t that, but I didn’t long for that version in the least.
Dante Fried Chicken plans to pop-up for brunch monthly at the Hotel Normandie, including a July fish fry taco shindig. Based on what I’ve experienced so far at this brunch, and in the past, DFC is sure to package big flavor that’s far from traditional with some serious fun.