Upscale Austin hospitality group McGuire Moorman Lambert Hospitality (MML) seems to have a formula for their restaurants: heavy ambiance, good but not stellar food, and outlandish pricing.
The prices at MML restaurants have drawn the ire of Austinites through the years ($32 chicken fried steak at Joann’s, $22 rotisserie chicken at Lou’s). But none of these hold a candle to the price of the whole chicken at MML’s latest restaurant Pecan Square Cafe, which is a brazen $80.
I think about this chicken dish far more than I should. My new favorite conversation starter is to have people guess how much this chicken costs (the highest prediction was $75).
What could possibly be so good about this chicken? The restaurant recently switched chicken providers — purportedly to keep up with demand — from Belle Vie Farm & Kitchen (retail $28) to Greener Pastures (retail $17.33), whose bird I was told is cross-bred with a Cornish game hen. What is happening to the chicken to justify the $80 cost? Is it getting a massage, like Kobe beef?
I am aware that this is not a per-person price, as is unlikely one person will consume an entire chicken in one sitting. There is also a half-chicken for $42, which is also available at lunch as part of a three-course $50 prix fixe meal.
I also understand the concepts of labor costs and fixed costs. I have never owned a restaurant, and I am not going to pretend to be qualified to calculate how much a dish should cost. But... $80? For a chicken?
Also, $80 is an increase. When the restaurant opened in April, the chicken was $70, with different sides. Apparently, when they ran the numbers, they decided to charge more.
To be clear, I love Pecan Square Cafe. The pizzas and pasta make a great dinner for under $30. I recently fought my friend for the last bites of the sweet potato cavatelli. My feelings about the chicken are not outrage — this is certainly not out of character for MML. I feel more genuine, old-fashioned bafflement. What is so special about this chicken?
Obviously, I had to try it. I went with the lunch chicken, because I am not made of money. It came with summer squash, sweet potato greens, and sauce verjus (a sauce made with the juice of unripe grapes). It was good chicken. It was plump and juicy. I do not have any complaints, except that I might have preferred a more savory sauce. But did the heavens open and I came to a new realization about the pinnacles of taste that chicken could reach? Absolutely not. It was just chicken. Plus a seemingly hefty MML ambiance tax.
As a reminder for the Lucille Bluths out there, a whole rotisserie chicken at H-E-B runs around $9.
Update, 3:20 p.m. - This post has been edited for sensitivity.