'Top Chef' restaurateur's newest fried chicken the Crack Shack gets ready to open in Costa Mesa

With a name like the Crack Shack, it evokes curiosity.

It’s supposed to, according to its co-founder, Michael Rosen.

The fried chicken eatery set to open Monday in Costa Mesa is a riff on chicken and eggs.

Just think of “cracking an egg,” said Rosen, who founded the Crack Shack with “Top Chef” restaurateur Richard Blais.

With the Crack Shack, Rosen and Blais said they offer a higher form of fried chicken, using free-roaming, grain-fed Jidori chicken from Southern California and produce from local boutique farms.

“Mike really loves chicken and most chefs have a thing for eggs,” Blais said. “So, the idea sort of started there. We said, ‘Let’s do something with chicken and eggs.’ We realized there weren’t a lot of restaurants doing fried chicken at a high level.”

Rosen and Blais, both San Diego residents, launched the first Crack Shack in that city in 2015 and have been making their way north, opening a second in Encinitas and now a third in Costa Mesa. A fourth Crack Shack is scheduled to open in Century City in spring 2018.

Situated in a former site of a Chase bank, the two-story, 5,500-square foot Crack Shack is bright, open and airy, with a retractable roof, booths fashioned from barn doors and walls constructed of Torrey Pine wooden beams.

Renowned artwork and photos line the walls but with a playful twist.

For example, Neil Leifer’s iconic photo of Muhammad Ali standing over a flattened Sonny Liston is displayed, but with chicken heads replacing Ali’s and Liston’s heads.

“The vibe itself is super casual,” Blais said. “We’d like to think you can bring anyone from your business partner or work colleagues to your uncle from the Midwest who’s just coming to town for the holidays or your kids.”

The menu offers five- and 10-piece fried chicken meals with a choice of dipping sauces for $15 and $29, respectively.

Sandwiches range from $9 to $13 and include the Royale, a chicken sausage patty, topped with a sunny-side egg and smoked cheddar between a homemade English muffin.

The Coop Deville sandwich contains fried chicken, lime mayonnaise, pickled chilies and Napa cabbage between a brioche bun.

Schmaltz fried fries — cooked in melted animal fat — are made from scratch and take 48 hours of preparation.

The Crack Shack also has a full bar, offering craft cocktails and local beers.

“It just seems like the area is hungry for something that is authentic with high-quality ingredients,” Rosen said. “If you are going to eat fried chicken, it should be the highest-quality fried chicken.”

Having established himself as an investment manager, Rosen, a New Jersey transplant, didn’t initially envision himself in the restaurant business.

He relocated to San Diego several years ago for a business opportunity.

Rosen began thinking about opening a fine-dining restaurant in San Diego.

“When I was 50, one of my daughters told me they were tired of me talking about the restaurant business,” he said. “So, I was called out by my kids. I’d been thinking about it and I said, ‘I might regret doing it, but I might also regret not doing it.’”

Rosen sought out Blais and in 2014, the pair opened Juniper & Ivy, an upscale restaurant in downtown San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood.

Next door to the restaurant was a vacant metal shack that was a popular spot for photo shoots.

Rosen was approached with offers to convert the shack into retail space.

But he had another idea.

“I said let’s make that shack a homage to chicken,” Rosen said. “It’s a place not just to eat chicken but to experience chicken.”

The Crack Shack is at 196 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa. For more information, call (949) 383-5040 or visit crackshack.com.

Lou Ponsi is a contributor to Times Community News.

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