A fledgling Baltimore stall slinging South Korea’s famed gangjeong chicken will add a second location in D.C. next year, with more on the way.
The Chicken Lab, one of 20 vendors in Federal Hill’s buzzy Cross Street Market, centers around a specific style of poultry preparation where chunks of chicken are battered, deep fried, and then tossed in a sticky, sweet-and-spicy sauce to deliver a crispy consistency in each bite.
Husband-wife duo Daehee “Danny” Wi and Hyeyeon “Hye” Jeon debuted the fast-casual counter in South Baltimore nearly a year ago (1065 S. Charles Street). Wi leads the kitchen and Jeon handles everything else on the docket. Wi grew up in Incheon, a Chinese-influenced culinary hub near Seoul where entire streets are devoted to gangjeong chicken. As is the case at the bustling Sinpo International Market, where wall-to-wall vendors sell competing versions of the uniquely prepared protein.
The Chicken Lab’s starring stir-fried creation, joined by chewy fried rice cakes, onions, and peppers, gets topped with scallions, sesame seeds, and peanuts with a side of pickled radish. Double-fried Korean chicken can also be found locally at chains (Bonchon) and independent stalwarts like Choong Hwa Won in Annandale, Virginia.
At Charm City’s Chicken Lab, Wi says he fields about 60 to 80 gangjeong orders on a typical Saturday and that number doubles during a home Ravens or Orioles game day.
The Chicken Lab will soon activate Bryant Street NE’s incoming food hall called The Bevy. The 12,400-square-foot Edgewood project, set to debut next to Alamo Drafthouse in late summer 2023, has room for nine food and beverage stalls (670 Rhode Island Avenue NE). The Chicken Lab is the first known opening vendor so far. The couple is also scouring parts of Maryland and Virginia for additional sites.
Wi flourished behind the line at Kong Pocha, his cousins’ Korean sit-down restaurant in Baltimore, before breaking out with a nostalgic, laser-focused chicken stall.
Gangjeong dates all the way back to the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392) in a recipe that called for rice flour, honey, grain syrup, and nuts. Fast forward to the fried chicken boom of the ’60s, the quick-serve and affordable order surged in popularity with the addition of various vegetables. Glutinous flour clings to the sauce and adds to the secondary frying to keep the meat moist and crispy. Wi and Jeon also update the iconic dish at Chicken Lab, giving shrimp or vegetarian dumplings the same gangjeong treatment.
A fried chicken bowl is the second most popular order. A smidge lighter, the bowl combines steamed white rice, mixed salad, glassy japchae noodles, fried chicken, and a drizzle of homemade sauce.
Kimchi also makes several appearances, atop cheese fries and in stir-fried rice with a fried egg on top. The menu will soon grow with more vegetarian selections and dessert drops like Korea’s beloved bingsu (shaved ice with sweet toppings).
Hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sundays until 7 p.m. Online ordering, in-store pickup and local delivery are available.
—Tierney Plumb contributed to this report