Earlier this summer, my friend introduced me to a talented young Taiwanese-American chef named Eric Huang. He had cooked at Cafe Pecking house Boulud with Daniel Boulud, Gramercy Tavern with Michael Anthony, and Eleven Madison Park with Daniel Humm. I found out later that he went to Juilliard for cello and graduated from Northwestern University. He was also an exceptional writer from what I could read on his Instagram posts. This guy was the real deal and all sorts of talented.
Eric wanted advice and feedback on his business plan for Anzhu, a high-end Chinese restaurant he dreamed of opening in New York. We talked about the current state of the industry and how people right now and for the foreseeable future needed something different, something more comforting. I talked him into doing something fast casual and simpler that could be delivered to the masses. He could make a lot more cash and build his brand to raise capital more easily for Anzhu when things get back to normal. They was already making frozen dumplings on the side to deliver to friends. He had his family restaurant Peking House in Queens that he could use as a ghost kitchen. I suggested fried chicken after having the fried chicken from Birdsong in San Francisco. And thus Pecking House was born.
ic Huang never expected to be making some of the best-fried chicken in the country.
The Juilliard graduate began his culinary career shortly after college, knocking on the doors of restaurants in Illinois, hoping to find work. Soon enough, he found his way to Eleven Madison Park where he served as a Sous Chef. And then in January of 2020, he decided to quit. Huang wanted to go out on his own and fulfill his dream of opening his very own fine dining restaurant in Manhattan.
“It couldn’t have been worse timing,” Huang grinned.
While working in his mother’s kitchen in Long Island City, he was desperate for escape. His cousin provided a solution. “My cousin came up to me and said, ‘you know your dad’s space is just sitting there, empty,’ and he asked me ‘would you want to cook there?’ I was entranced by the idea of having this abandoned kitchen all to myself.”
Peking House, Huang’s father’s restaurant, sits on a somewhat random corner of Queens. It’s a beautiful building, but the kitchen remains far from ideal. It does not have a working oven or broiler, but instead just a few deep fryers, and a four burner stove. Only two work. Huang said “we were very limited in what we could cook from a capabilities standpoint,” but that was only half of it. Starting a restaurant of sorts in the pandemic meant Huang also had to do delivery and so that was another factor to consider. So far from his customer base in Manhattan, he settled on wanting to serve around 20 meals a week, mostly to friends, just to make ends meet.
He started toying around and asking, “What’s something that people want to eat at home that’s comforting?” and so “we tried out all of these things and the fried chicken was the clear winner.”
If you think you know fried chicken, you haven’t had it quite like this. Huang’s is a blend of Chinese and American identities, ones he grew up juggling his entire life.
Miraculously, the chicken was always crispy and warm, something Huang took a painstaking approach to get right.
But getting the chicken became elusive. Soon enough, Pecking House accrued a waitlist of 5,000 customers and counting. And was only able to serve about 120 meals a day due to delivery constraints. The delivery drivers weren’t Grubhub or Doordash. But we’re instead ex-Eleven Madison Park employees, who have since gone back to work.
“When things started to open up, my friends were like, ‘guess it’s time to get our careers back in line,’ and I was like great, you sure you still don’t want to drive for me?.” As a result, Huang launched an outdoor dining space, right outside of Peking House.
The new menu, only available in person, expands on Huang’s success: The chicken sandwich.
Which Huang refers to as “the middle child,” is glazed with a dark soy caramel sauce. Topped with a mouthwatering pineapple jam, stuffed inside of a brioche bun. If you think you’re getting a knife to cut it in half, you’re not. Huang has also added salt and pepper duck drumettes with pickled jalapeño, and orange pepper. Wet wings soaked in a citrus butter sauce and finished with hot paprika.
As for the fine dining world, Huang doesn’t think he’s going back anytime soon. “In my mind,” Huang said, “fine dining is pushing the boundary of where we can go. Then it comes back and resurfaces in your local pub.” He says, “I don’t miss fine dining really. I find that cooking this way is really a lot more rewarding and people really enjoy it. They are just happy to eat something delicious and understand immediately what it is.”