For anyone who has dined at Chicken Rebel, the eventual arrival of a brick-and-mortar would have seemed only inevitable. Lydie Lovett’s famed menu has been changing the way Denver diners think about chicken sandwiches since her truck essentially crash-landed in 2017. The vehicle has been stationed at Finn’s Manor for a matter of years and in 2019 Lovett enjoyed a successful summer integrating with the city at large, peddling product at a blistering speed from her window at Avanti. On November 20, the business opened its first standalone location next to Mythology Distillery in LoHi. Since then the team has been tinkering with a vastly expanded menu — just this weekend releasing a new, more finalized version that finally features brunch all day. Every day.
Large windows, a genial atmosphere, a massive hen mural and free pinball properly highlight just how welcoming the place is. But there is still a certain grit. The counter is made of skateboards, Biggie and Bowie scowl down in brilliant neon from high on one of the deep charcoal walls and a general toughness underscores the cheery vibe. Cheap drinks — including Pabst and Modelo cans — help to keep the atmosphere decidedly unpretentious. Lovett hopes to deliver quality cuisine at a relatively low price in a neighborhood where cheap food is becoming harder and harder to find.
Chicken Rebel’s early success came from a carefully crafted menu of a mere six items — three sandwiches and three plates of tots was all it took to cement the place in the hearts of fried chicken enthusiasts across the city. The new menu has nine different sandwiches — including the wildly popular firebird ($11) — a truly spicy Nashville variation with cool ranch slaw and pickle chips. The entirely vegan freebird ($12) — comes with beer battered chick’n, avocado, jalapeno slaw and herb mayo. Tots have been joined by a range of small plates, salads, a few desserts and the almighty everyday brunch. Chicken and waffles ($13) with honey butter, hot sauce and bourbon syrup atop a Belgian waffle come as an obvious choice, with the Stuffed Captain Crunch French toast ($8) with a blended berry-cream filling and whipped cream being available to satisfy more depraved a.m. expectations.
The tots are still one of the joint’s major selling points, Lovett often jokingly referring to the place as “Tot Rebel.” The fancy tots ($7.50) — with lemon, parsley, parmesan and garlic mayo — are still by far the place’s best selling item. Healthier dishes have been added, including the Power of You Bowl ($13) — with grilled chicken, arugula, parmesan-roasted corn, balsamic tomatoes, pickled red onions and house-made basil-lemon buttermilk ranch — have been added in hopes of diversifying the clientele, which Lovett has described as consisting of an amusing overabundance of hungry men.
Lovett — who most recently relocated from San Diego — has been steadily filling the taps with beers from the coastal microbrew capital. Ballast Point, Modern Times, Alesmith and Green Flash are already pouring with more on the way. Cocktails like the Community Spirit ($12) with St. George green chile vodka, fresh lime, agave nectar and cucumber, and the Self-Esteem Punch ($10) — a rum-based concoction with ingredients listed plainly as “don’t worry about it” — are almost essential companions to the spicier menu items.
Despite opening over the holidays, Chicken Rebel has already been endearing itself to the neighborhood — with the relatively light traffic allowing Lovett time to for further experimentation. The new menu appears to welcome a new era for the restaurant, with Lovett’s concepts clearly being built to thrive with rapid expansion. Never one for settling, Lovett is already planning on adding another location on South Broadway.
Chicken Rebel is located at 3618 Tejon St, Denver. It is open Sunday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.