Since opening in March, the Hot Lola’s stall in Ballston Quarter has lured eaters from D.C. across the Potomac to try a taste of chef Kevin Tien’s Sichuan pepper-sprinkled take on a Nashville hot chicken sandwich. Tomorrow, Tien’s warming, tingling sandwich will begin a month-long stay in the heart of Northwest D.C. as part of a new pop-up at U Street staple Service Bar that invites local chefs to one-up the Popeye’s version that set the internet aflame this year.
The pop-up, which Service Bar is calling “FRIED,” will offer a limited supply of a featured sandwich from 5 p.m. to close every night of business (closed Mondays). The owners have already got a commitment from Johanna Hellrigl Wilder, the former Doi Moi chef who is gearing up to open Mercy Me with the Call Your Mother team, to design a future sandwich. The bar is planning to give each chef’s creation a month-long run and is open to showcasing restaurants from Maryland, Virginia, and D.C.
Chefs will train the Service Bar staff to prepare their sandwiches, then leave the recipe in their hands. The fact that Service Bar is already known for its fried chicken — the bar offers lemon-brined, fried thighs as well as nuggets and both Buffalo and chicken Parm sandwiches — helps build some faith. Tien is entrusting the bar with a dry-hot (medium spice) version of the Hot Lola’s sandwich, a spice-dusted, fried chicken thigh served with slaw, pickles, and comeback sauce on a sesame seed bun.
The chicken sandwiches will normally cost $13, but they’ll be $10 on opening day, when there will also be a $2 special for Miller High Life. Part of the proceeds from each sandwich will go to a charity of the guest chef’s choice. Tien has picked the Human Rights Campaign, which works to protect civil rights for the LGBTQ community.
Service Bar co-owner Chad Spangler says the idea behind the pop-up is to harness the momentum of the Popeye’s and Chik-fil-A feud to shine a spotlight on D.C.’s community of creative chefs. Spangler and Tien go way back — they used to work together at Farmers, Fishers, Bakers in Georgetown, where Spangler was mixing drinks near Tien’s sushi station.
Champagne and Miller High Life will be two natural drinks to pair with the sandwiches. Service Bar, which just celebrated its 3-year anniversary, takes pride in its “hyper-seasonal” cocktail menu. Right now, that includes a Sundubu Sour ($13) that blends premium vodka that’s infused with Korean chile flakes with a mizu lemongrass shochu, cucumber, ginger, lime, and black pepper. A Toki-O highball ($13) features Japanese whiskey infused with concord grape and grape candy.
Another pop-up, the Lao Wich stall at Tysons Galleria, was also inspired by fried chicken mania.