Beakers and pizza pies

The Lab Bar and Grill opens with praise; plus, three new pizza slingers plan businesses in Chico

The chicken sandwich I had last Friday (April 20) was quite possibly the best fried chicken sandwich I’ve had in years. For a soft opening of a restaurant, I’d say this one is on the right track!

The Lab Bar and Grill is Chico’s newest eating and imbibing establishment, and it came together seemingly overnight. Owner Kevin Jaradah (of Spike’s Bottle Shop) got the keys and a week later, he’d finished repainting the whole thing, scrubbing down the kitchen and hiring staff. Overall, the place looks and feels great.

I’d stopped in to visit earlier in the week and had a chance to chat it up with the head chef, Christopher Olmstead. Originally from Idaho, he’s studied the culinary arts in the U.S., Italy and Thailand. For the past 35 years, he’s worked as a personal chef. I was impressed with his résumé—and his philosophy on food, which is right in line with mine: Good food starts with good ingredients, making things from scratch takes longer but is worth it, and heart is integral to the recipe.

He mentioned his buttermilk fried chicken during our conversation, and I think I started drooling a little. The sandwich was simple, to be sure: fried chicken breast, onions, tomato, lettuce, pickles and mayo on a Tin Roof challah bun. I also ordered the grilled cheese with bacon jam—I brought half of each home to the man. My friends Joan and Mike, who accompanied me, had the burger and the grilled cheese. Both were quite pleased. Mike and I agreed that maybe one more slice of cheese would make the grilled cheese just that much better.

Besides a predictably eclectic beer list, Jaradah already has started building his whiskey shelf, and Olmstead promised a good variety of wines as well. Beers are served in beakers, as they should be in a Lab. (The location, in a mostly medical complex and next door to Quest Diagnostics, is fitting.) Along the lines of a tap takeover, Jaradah plans to have educational tasting nights in the banquet room with reps from whiskey makers. On weekends, there will be barbecue from brand-spanking-new Southern Zen Barbecue, owned by L.A. native Kevin Klemm.

I’m excited to watch this venture grow. Check out The Lab on Facebook or in person at 250 Cohasset Road, Ste. 10 (previously The End Zone).

Care for a slice? There are three new pizza places planning to open in town. The first, Chicago’s Pizza With a Twist, is by far the most interesting. It is going in to the Safeway shopping center on Nord Avenue. What’s the twist, you ask? The pizzas are Indian-themed. Think chicken tikka masala pizza, or chicken curry pizza. (Incidentally, nearly across the street, in the old Bulldog Taqueria spot, are signs for Taj Indian Restaurant.)

Then there’s Drifter Pizza Co., which appears to have started in Sebastopol and is a mobile, wood-fired pizza kitchen. It’s on the Chico Certified Farmers’ Market list of vendors, so watch out. The other is Inferno Wood-Fired Pizza and Catering, also mobile, which plans to open any day now.