A quarter-century ago, you could frequently find me chomping through bowlfuls of salad on the patio of Silvergreens, which UCSB grad Jay Ferro opened on a prominent Isla Vista corner in 1994. He bottled the fast-casual healthy-ish food craze of that era and repackaged it for college students like myself — tired of heavy, carb-focused fare and short on funds, yet still craving full flavors.
Fast-forward to last month, and I’m back on that patio, but this time under a sign advertising Kyle’s Chicken House. Instead of leaves, I’m chomping into piles of fried chicken flesh, in both sandwich and tender form, sloshed in an array of sauces, accompanied by cheesy fries.
Salad, it seems, is out — this original, and final, Silvergreens shut down in 2020 — while crunchy, heavily seasoned poultry is all the rage. Popeye’s took on Chick-fil-A in the fast food wars, Nashville-style hot chicken shops continue to pop up around the country, and every self-respecting casual restaurant serves a fried chicken sando now. Even fine-dining spots now feature fried chicken nights, and there’s a Korean fried chicken angle to the trend, as evidenced in places like Vons Chicken, just down the street from Kyle’s in the former Tio Alberto’s location.
Aiming to capture trend lightning again on this prominent Isla Vista corner, Ferro spun off Kyle’s Chicken House from Kyle’s Kitchen, the burgers-and-more chain that slowly swallowed SIlvergreens’ market share. When the Kitchen introduced a Krispy Chicken Sandwich in late 2020 — around the time that the last Silvergreens turned into a Kyle’s — the menu item blew up, so Ferro began to put the House together.
At the helm of this I.V. operation is Michael Kling, a UCSB grad and veteran of both the hospitality and IT industries who’s also now an announcer at Gaucho games. A friend of Ferro’s since their UCSB days, Kling is as enthusiastic as one can be about the promise of chicken, both as a delicious, affordable food for students and as a means of bringing the community together.
“I’d like to be known as Mike the Chicken Guy,” said Kling, before busting out a Breaking Bad reference. “I’ll be the Gus Fring of Isla Vista, without the meth.”
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A central mission of Kyle’s Kitchen is philanthropy — the brand is named after Ferro’s special-needs son and has donated more than $200,000 to various charities since opening in 2015 — so Kling is making those connections to the Chicken House, as well, hoping to fundraise with fraternities and sororities, teams, and clubs. “Our culture is to give back and be part of the community,” said Kilng, who also noted that chicken tenders and sandwiches are great for parties. “What do college-aged kids like better than chicken sandwiches?”
I’m a sucker for fried chicken myself — I even wrote an ode titled “The World’s Perfect Sandwich?” six years ago — so, no surprise, I thought Kyle’s was pretty solid. Crunchy outside, moist inside, well-seasoned, and, in the case of The Nashville Hot, spicy enough to tingle the taste buds but not so much that pain became an issue. The brioche bun was soft, almost sweet, the slaw a cooling counterpoint, and the sauces all worthy of a dip, though I enjoyed the sweet chili most.
Kling credits their 24-hour herb-buttermilk brine, hand-breading to order, and, most of all, their special pressure fryers for that crispy-yet-fresh combination. “The pressure fryers cook from the inside out, which keeps the chicken moist,” he explained. My wife also enjoyed the cheesy crinkle-cut fries, loving that they weren’t oily, and inhaled the butter-soaked Texas toast, a nod to Southern culture like the sweet tea on tap.
Kyle’s Chicken House is just getting started, explained Kling, who listed off upcoming menu additions — like a Korean fried chicken style and milkshakes — and believes that the concept can scale into other locations and even regions. It’s certainly already working in Isla Vista, where the team is tapping into UCSB influencers, hosting flash sales via social media, and developing relationships both on and off campus.
“Sometimes a concept fits the times,” said Kling. “Everything is working. This is something we’re excited about.”
900 Embarcadero del Mar, Isla Vista; (805) 961-1700; kyleschickenhouse.com