Southern hospitality—the words just go hand in hand. So why is Southern cooking (other than Louisiana-style offerings) so underrepresented in this hospitality-focused city? The South is a lot larger than Louisiana, and its food a lot broader than Cajun and Creole. That’s probably one reason those in the food and beverage community are so excited about the January 2 opening of Yardbird Southern Table & Bar in the Venetian space that formerly housed Pinot Brasserie.
Of course, there are other reasons to be excited about Yardbird. The original location is a Miami Beach favorite. Two extremely respected local chefs are heading the kitchen: executive chef Todd Harrington (former executive chef of Central by Michael Richard and Downtown Grand) and chef de cuisine John Courtney (former sous chef at DB Brasserie, Pinot Brasserie, Marche Bacchus and RM Seafood). The menu is packed with Southern classics, including shrimp and grits, pan-fried trout and fried frog legs. And the cocktail program is a bourbon-lover’s dream.
Yardbird’s bar and spacious lounge area front a chunk of the promenade between the Venetian and the Palazzo. The large dining area sits behind them with a private dining room to one side and a communal Chef’s Table directly in front of the open kitchen. While the overall vibe is casual and fun, there are still some cozier spots tucked into one side of the room.
The centerpiece of the menu here is the fried chicken, which they brine for at least 27 hours to get a flavor that goes well past the crispy skin and all the way down to the bone. I’ll put it up against the best in town. You can order it alone, served with spicy Tabasco honey, or sandwiched between two biscuits with pepper jelly and house pickles. But I suggest it alongside the cheddar and scallion waffles, and fresh watermelon cubes tossed with hot sauce and lightly sprinkled with salt. The dish comes with maple syrup and hot honey sauce, as well as chow chow (vegetable relish) for the waffles. But to me, using them just masks the subtly complex flavors of the main ingredients.
As great as the fried chicken is, don’t overlook the deep, smoky barbecue version served with a tangy sauce, mashed potatoes and okra. The boys in the kitchen borrowed this from Yardbird’s sister barbecue restaurant, Swine, in Miami, and it is some rock-solid smoking.
Another can’t-miss dish is the fried green tomato BLT. I don’t generally like tomatoes. But these thick, crispy disks piled high with salty pork belly, greens, tomato jam and house-made pimentos (there’s no bread on this BLT) are absolute perfection.
There are plenty of other hits on the menu, such as a smoked marrow bone served with country jam, and a side of faro made with pork sausage and chicken liver mousse (a true down-and-dirty Southern treat).
As good as most everything is, I’d be remiss if I didn’t warn you about the lesser dishes I’ve encountered. An order of mac and cheese was much too dry for my taste, something Courtney agreed with when he visited my table. Similarly, I prefer my grits a bit creamier than what they’re offering (although the shrimp and grits is still a very good dish). And does Vegas really need another take on deviled eggs? When Harrington topped them with white anchovies at Central three years ago, I was wowed. A few dozen presentations later, even topping Yardbird’s with smoked trout roe induces a yawn.
Having dined at the original Yardbird over the recent holidays, I can tell you nothing seems to have gotten lost on the journey from Miami to Las Vegas, although some recipes have been tweaked slightly. What’s really important, of course, isn’t how our Yardbird compares with the original, but how it compares with other restaurants in the Valley. From that standpoint, I’m very impressed so far, and I can’t wait to go back to sample the brunch menu and some real Southern desserts.
Al’s Menu Picks
- Fried green tomato BLT ($14)
- smoked and roasted bone marrow ($17)
- Chicken ‘n’ Watermelon ‘n’ Waffles ($36)
- and smoked backyard barbecue
- chicken ($28).
Yardbird Southern Table & Bar
The Venetian, 702-297-6541. Open for dinner 4:30 p.m.–midnight Sun; 4 p.m.–midnight Mon–Thu; 4:30 p.m. – 1 a.m. Fri–Sat. Open for brunch 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Fri–Sun. Dinner for two, $50–$135