The Eagle’s crisp, fiery fried chicken is billed as free-roaming and cage-free.

Free-range chicken adds value at The Eagle

The Eagle landed in Louisville two years ago this month, fourth shop in a Cincinnati-based mini-chain. I have to confess that I didn’t pay much attention at first. But then I found out that The Eagle isn’t just another Highlands bar. Its fried chicken is also a big thing. It’s not your industrially fried chicken, either. It is, according to the firm’s website, “cage free, free roaming, all natural chicken.”

This is a big deal to me. I’d much rather enjoy cage-free birds if I can.

So, coincident with LEO Weekly’s fried-chicken special this week, we settled in for a late lunch. I feel quite a bit better about The Eagle now. I can recommend not only the chicken but some particularly interesting salads, a grilled cheese sandwich, and at least one crunchy, spicy starter as well.

The restaurant, which previously housed El Camino and before that, Avalon, is spacious, sprawling over several floors with a large rectangular bar dominating the main-floor space. Heavy use is made of dark, rustic wood, which with faded dark red painted walls gives the faint impression of dining in a clean, orderly barn.

The beer, liquor and cocktails list takes up a page-and-a-half of the menu, the food only a little more than a half-page, which at first appeared to confirm my hypothesis that its primary function is as a bar, not an eatery. A closer look prompted a double-take, though.

Except for the signature fried chicken ($7 for a dark or light quarter, $11 for a half or $19 for the whole bird), the menu is limited to snacks, salads, sandwiches, and sides. But those are anything but boring. Four appetizer snacks include pickled country vegetables ($6), brown-sugar and cayenne-crusted bacon ($7) and more. A trio of salads, available small or large, range in price from $4 to $11. A half-dozen sandwiches are $7 (for grilled cheese) to $12 (for a blackened shrimp po’boy or a BLT with a fried chicken breast thrown in).

The drinks list is extensive, including a dozen draft beers – all American craft beers, many of them regional, save for the mandatory Guinness – a half-dozen cocktails, about 50 bottled beers; 30 whiskeys, mostly Bourbon, of course; and a short wine list.

A bowl of the house corn nuts ($4) made a pleasantly addictive snack, lightly fried and generously dusted with fiery, smoky spices, with a couple of lime wedges.

The Eagle’s country green salad, kale salad and hominy corn nuts all await our attention.
The Eagle’s country green salad, kale salad and hominy corn nuts all await our attention.
Creative, interesting salads go way beyond your usual tossed field greens, caesar or iceberg wedge. Kale salad ($5 for small, $9 for large), for instance, featured a generous portion of Tuscan kale in long strips, tossed with plump, sweet bourbon-soaked golden raisins, crisp apple julienne, coarsely grated white cheddar, and yummy, crunchy cornbread croutons, all tossed in a tart cider vinaigrette.

Country green salad ($4 for small, $7 for large) was an intriguing mix of peppery greens: mustard greens, curly endive, and frisée, with cucumber and radish to add crunch, and a few candied pecans, all tossed in a light but piquant mustard vinaigrette.

The fried chicken half ($11), pictured at the top of the page, arrived disassembled on red-and-white checked paper: a leg, a breast, a thigh and a wing. The breading was crisp, fried dark reddish brown, while the skin beneath was less so, suggesting fierce, quick frying that builds a thin but crunchy cloak over tender meat. The chicken itself was cooked but au point, maybe medium rather than well done, with a little pink still showing near the thigh bone. The bird was flavorful with the slightly gamey character that signals cage-free poultry. A delicious hint of lemon and black pepper had been rubbed under the breast skin. A jar of hot honey is served alongside, and we left it there.

Sides are a la carte but affordable, from $3 to $5. Horseradish mashed potatoes ($5) came in a large portion, too, in a small black-iron skillet. They were smashed and textured, not creamy, with plenty of horseradish to impart a distinct flavor. A pool of light chicken gravy filled the middle.

Three cheeses and dabs of apricot preserves and tart apples improve The Eagle’s grilled-cheese sandwich.
Three cheeses and dabs of apricot preserves and tart apples improve The Eagle’s grilled-cheese sandwich.
A grilled cheese sandwich ($7) was large and very good indeed, a far cry from Mom’s Velveeta on Wonder Bread. Two thick, large slices from a rustic white loaf were stacked and grilled with three kinds of cheese – Gouda, white and yellow Cheddar, the server said – with dabs of apricot preserves and thin-sliced Granny Smith apples tucked in to add alluring flavor and texture.

With iced tea ($3), no beer or liquor, our toll came to $41.34 plus a $10 tip for our friendly and efficient server, Hannah.

The Eagle
1314 Bardstown Road

Noise level: We found conversation easy during a late lunch, when most of the main-floor tables were occupied, but only one person, engrossed in his laptop, sat at the bar. You can count on more noise in the evening. (Average sound level 75dB, with a single loud peak to 88 dB)

Accessibility: The entrance is barrier-free, but parts of the restaurant are up stairs, and most of the main-floor seating is on high chairs at the bar or high-top tables or raised booths. I could see only one table for eight that would easily accommodate a wheelchair user.