Down-to-the-bone seasoning, heavy on the hot sauce, and one more spice than the original KFC blend. That’s how Ean Bancroft describes the fried chicken at forthcoming Decatur restaurant Mothers Best opening in October.
Bancroft and partner Ross Winecoff are taking over the space currently home to Calle Latina after that restaurant relocates in July to the former Figo space at East Decatur Station. Calle Latina owners Michael Condon and Paul Vinces needed more room to expand the restaurant’s growing catering and takeout businesses and to add a ceviche and sushi bar.
If Bancroft and Mothers Best sound familiar, it’s because the chef and the fried chicken pop-up have been around for a while in Atlanta. You might have eaten a hot dog from Bancroft’s pop-up with Josh Martin, GoDog, during a PGA tour event or at music festival Shaky Knees. Bancroft has been a part of the Victory Brands restaurant group, working at Lloyd’s and the SOS Tiki Bar. The latter often hosted his pop-ups, including Sweet E’s in 2019 and Mothers Best. But it was at Sceptre Brewing Arts where Bancroft and Winecoff met their future business partners in the restaurant, brewery owners Donald Durant and Armando Celentano, who also own Argosy in East Atlanta Village.
Like so many chefs in Atlanta, Bancroft was caught up in the restaurant shutdowns of 2020 during the early days of the pandemic and needed to seek other ways to make ends meet while out of work. With bars not allowed to reopen in Georgia for months that year, and having to follow strict social distancing guidelines when they did reopen, the tiny Decatur tiki bar simply couldn’t operate properly.
“We started building relationships through the hot dog business. That’s actually how we met Armando and Donald when we were running GoDog from Sceptre,” say Bancroft. “What I learned from GoDog was that nostalgia vibe for food is just so heightened right now. That’s when I started thinking about other nostalgic comfort foods.”
He landed on fried chicken.
Bancroft grew up eating Popeye’s fried chicken in New Orleans and fondly recalls how his mother bought boxes of Publix fried chicken on Tuesday nights for dinner. That’s the kind of fried chicken Bancroft and Winecoff wanted to make for Mothers Best. Nothing cheffy, elaborate, or “elevated”, Bancroft says.
After testing a few fried chicken recipes, they landed on one both agreed was the right choice for Mothers Best. Brown sugar is a key ingredient in the chicken brine, something Bancroft learned while working at a whole animal butcher shop, where he and Winecoff first met.
“White sugar gives you candy sweetness up front, which is perfect in a pickle brine chicken. I wanted down-to-the-bone seasoning, a bit of sweetness, salt, and heavy on the hot sauce in the brine for acidity and heat,” Bancroft says. “You get chicken steeped all the way through and then we use 14 different spices, which is one more than KFC.”
Buttermilk and flour, even the fryer oil, are all seasoned. Turmeric give the Mothers Best fried chicken a golden brown hue.
At the restaurant, Bancroft and Winecoff plan to offer buckets of fried chicken, fried chicken sandwiches, and fried chicken tenders. During golden hour (think happy hour but fried chicken,) the restaurant will serve hot and ready fried chicken sandwiches to go, with a neon sign flashing just like the hot doughnuts sign at Krispy Kreme.
Several dipping sauces, including a Mothers Best version of blackened ranch (nodding to Popeye’s) and Creole mustard, will be available. Expect red beans and rice and collard green coleslaw with brined cabbage dressed in Duke’s mayo. But the star side on the menu at Mothers Best will be the rich and creamy velvet potatoes, a more fast-casual take on robuchon potatoes.
“I remember the first time I tried those potatoes and I said, ‘dude, let me know when you guys are ready to do something, because these are so good,’” says Celentano. “It got the wheels turning. They have a story and their own unique voice. Watching Mothers Best evolve, their care for the food...let’s figure out how to make this work.”
In terms of design, Mothers Best will feature family-style seating inside, along with a few smaller tables. The front patio will include high-top bar seating. A takeout window on the side of the building will also offer fried chicken and cocktails to go. Several cities throughout metro Atlanta established permanent open-container entertainment districts during the pandemic to allow for the purchase of to-go cocktails, including in Decatur and its historic town square.
Expect frozen cocktails such as frozen Irish coffee, a few classic New Orleans-style drinks (a hat tip to Bancroff’s upbringing there and his time working at Cane and Table in the French Quarter,) and plays on tropical drinks, some with over-the-top-garnishes to keep things a bit tongue-in-cheek.
Until the restaurant opens, folks can catch Mothers Best popping up at SOS Tiki Bar starting May 17, where Bancroft and Winecoff will be in residence with High Tide Hinky Dink’s. Look for the kitchen residency at the tiki bar to include Polynesian-inspired versions of Mothers Best fried chicken, as well as dishes like Louisiana blue crab rangoon, Tasso ham brined spring rolls, and boiled peanuts with rum-soaked pineapple.
Mothers Best is popping up at Amplify Decatur music festival Saturday, April 29, too, and at Shaky Knees in early May.
“It’s going to be a lot of long days and nights until we open in Decatur. As soon as we get off from our SOS shifts, we’re planning to run over to the restaurant to do more work,” Bancroft says. “But being at SOS keeps us close by and allows us to be playful with our food and have fun before we become the kingdom of fried chicken that we’re building in Decatur.”
Calle Latina remains open and operating on Church Street in Decatur until July 1. The restaurant then relocates to East Decatur Station, reopening in the renovated former Figo space on East College Avenue near Three Taverns Craft Brewery.
406 Church Street, Decatur. mothersbestchicken.com.