Picture the juicy birds on the “Palestinian Chicken” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, poultry so satisfying that plates cause people to question their faith. Glendale may not have a place that could convince somebody so devout to convert, but the rotisserie chicken at places like Zankou Chicken and Sevan Chicken certainly have devoted followings. Rockbird is a new entrant to the city’s chicken canon, specializing in grilled Lebanese game hens.
Rockbird comes by its chicken honestly. Christopher Skaf and brother Daniel learned to grill from father Sam at Skaf’s Grill in North Hollywood. Sisters Nora and Marlene run Skaf’s Lebanese Cuisine nearby in Glendale. Unlike the aforementioned chicken restaurants that roast larger birds on rotisseries and serve other meats, Rockbird focuses on Cornish game hen, a smaller, juicier bird that doesn’t compete with any other proteins on the grill.
These Cornish game hens are just like the birds that the brothers grew up eating. Christopher has also never used a rotisserie, so even though grilling is demanding, he still finds it easier than cooking Skaf’s larger selection of proteins, which require different temperatures. Bone-in birds ($9 to 13) are simply brined using salt, pepper, and garlic. They shower the skin with a bit more salt and pepper once the birds hit the grill’s grates.
Rockbird’s sides are also a big step up from most fast casual chicken spots. Forget bland steamed vegetables and dry rice. The brothers actually have flavorful options like fried Brussels sprouts tossed with shaved red onions and honey balsamic glaze; smoky corn-on-the-cob lavished with garlic-rosemary butter, “auntie’s spice mix” and Parmesan; and indulgent macaroni and cheese that’s folded with molten Velveeta, sharp Cheddar, and Parmesan and sports a golden, buttery panko crust. Sides are good enough that if one skipped chicken entirely and ordered a No Bird Trio ($9), nobody would laugh.
Since opening, Rockbird has added fried chicken sandwiches using standard breast meat, since hen breasts are far too small to fill out a bun. Six versions are in the R&D stage, including a shawarma-inspired pita wrap with a yogurt-tahine blend and crumbled feta. Rockbird’s already rolled out two towering sandwiches on brioche buns.
“Wok” Bird features buttermilk-brined breast meat, spicy Sriracha mayo, soy chili glaze, and crunchy slaw tossed with tangy rice wine vinegar. Honey Chick is a sweeter riff made with house-made honey mustard mayo, house pickles, and tomatoes. Pretty much any chicken spot needs a spicy sandwich at this point, and Rockbird avoids Nashville spicing for their saucy Red Bird.
The Skaf brothers opened a Skaf’s restaurant and bakery on Brand Boulevard in 2012, but a fire shut them down. The demolition and rebuild set them back five years. They’re only now working to reopen that family flagship. In the meantime, they opened Rockbird with chef Javier Crespo in August 2017 to deliver a comforting neighborhood standby.
Design is more stylish than it needs to be given the basic strip mall location. The airy, glass-fronted space touts brick and white walls, hexagonal tiles, a reclaimed wood counter, open kitchen, and orange stools at high-top tables.
This east Glendale chicken restaurant initially went by The Yardbird, but that trademark already belonged to a Miami chain with a similar name that just debuted at Beverly Center, so the brothers changed to Rockbird to avoid a potential legal conflict.
By the end of the year, the brothers hope to revive their multifaceted Skaf’s outpost in downtown Glendale, packaging assorted Lebanese-style baked goods (sweet and savory) with a full coffee bar and restaurant serving mezza, grilled meats, shawarma, beer and wine. Christopher says, “This Skaf’s is going to focus a bit more on a family style experience to really highlight the stars of Lebanese dining.” In the meantime, they’ve given Glendalians a reason to cluck with Rockbird.
Rockbird, 1147 E. Colorado St., Glendale, 818.484.7654