What started as a pop-up for this trio of culinary veterans has become one of Denver’s most intriguing new fast-casual restaurants. Located inside Number 38, Split Lip Chicken combines a hyper-regional menu with a ‘fuck around and find out’ attitude. The fare offers a southern style hot chicken sandwich, Mississippi slug burger and more off-the-wall items like koolickles and boiled peanuts.
The Split Lip team is comprised of three transplants who wanted to highlight a variety of dishes that would make a city of newcomers feel at home. Adam Branz from Illinois and David Wright from Mississippi both collaborate on the menu to pluck the most popular flavors from a select group of states and incorporate them into their regional burgers. Naturally, the Mississippi slug burger ($7) is influenced by Wright’s home state. It’s topped with sweet corn butter, American cheese and too many pickles — aptly noted on the menu.
However, the staple menu item is the hot chicken sandwich ($12). This sandwich comes either grilled or fried topped with slaw, pickles and Kewpie mayonnaise. The spiciness is a “choose your own adventure” with heat levels ranging from medium, green chili, hot and XXX, or commonly advertised as “put your toilet paper in the freezer before eating.”
The hot chicken sandwiches are more on the saucy side as the fried chicken is dunked in a hot grease that’s made with dried chilies to give deeper flavors of toasted nut and levels to the heat.
“The medium heat is about a five. It has a lot of back spice using Chile Pequin. The hot has front and back heat incorporating more jalapeños along with other spices,” Branz said.
Circling back to the start of the menu are three snack options — koolickles ($3), boiled peanuts ($7) and corn ribs ($8). According to Wright, pickles marinated in Kool-Aid are quite the southern delight. Here in Denver, they tend to be a hit or miss.
“People either really love them or really hate them. If you ask about the koolickle, you must try it,” Branz said.
As the third member of this trio hails from Florida, Jessica Richter influenced the boiled peanuts snack that comes with a Cajun spice. It’s unusual to catch Kool-Aid marinated pickles and boiled peanuts on the menu of a Denver-based restaurant, but every dish has a story behind it.
“We like to say we’re a restaurant that serves quick burgers with long-winded stories,” Branz said.
Though the opening fare is quite intriguing, some items will likely change along with the culinary mood. The only dishes guaranteed to stay are the hot chicken sandwiches and regional slug burgers. As Split Lip continues to gain a real cult following for its blackboard, its staff is what really breathes life into the concept. Every member of the team has years of restaurant management and professional culinary experience, bringing a level of thoughtfulness to American comfort food.
Split Lip Chicken is located at 3560 Chestnut Pl., Denver. It is open Thursday and Friday from 4-10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
All Photography By Adrienne Thomas.