It’s not quite the same old song and dance at Songbird, one of Austin’s many peddlers of fried chicken sandwiches, opening as a food truck on February 3 at Meanwhile Brewing Co. In this case, these homestyle sandwiches on sliced bread are made by someone who hasn’t been associated with casual dining concepts in quite a while, Chef Joshua van den Berg.
Despite an unassuming appearance, these sandwiches pack a lot of flavor, from beef tallow frying and a long list of fresh seasonal ingredients. The classic chicken sandwich comes with iceberg lettuce, ranch dressing, pickles, and “squishy milk bread”, while a chicken-free option does the unexpected by combining Lebanon bologna with mustard, beer cheese (made in collaboration with Meanwhile), and maple syrup.
On top of winning a 2016 episode of the Food Network’s Chopped (Season 27, “Love Bites”), van den Berg has experience at some of the top restaurants in the United States: Michelin-starred Manhattan restaurant Aldea; Bern’s Steak House, in Tampa; and Suzume, in Brooklyn. Here in Austin, his name is associated with one of the city’s finest dining experiences, Sushi | Bar ATX, which made our list of favorite meals of 2022.
“Songbird is such an exciting concept because it’s approachable and casual, which is perfect for the families and young couples who frequent Meanwhile Brewing,” said Chef van den Berg in a release, “but we’re providing menu items at a higher level of execution and attention to detail that may not typically be applied to this echelon of food.”
On the chef’s impressive resume, cuisines range from Portuguese to American to Japanese, reflecting an interest in other cultural cooking styles. These experiences combined with a period of study in Thailand likely led to his adventurous use of ingredients like pickled chilis, Tso sauce, and fried dough (for malasadas; commonly Hawaiian or Portuguese) on the Songbird menu.
“I want to bring my training and experience within fine dining to create nostalgic flavor combinations inspired by my cooking abroad and throughout the United States,” van den Berg added.
The concept has technically been operating since a soft opening in January, joining Meanwhile’s fleet of existing food trucks that match the newcomer’s elevation: Side Eye Pie (pizza), Bésame (ice cream), Pueblo Viejo (tacos), and Distant Relatives (barbecue) — which recently earned a 2023 James Beard Award nomination.
Songbird, at 3901 Promontory Point Drive, will be open 4-9 pm on Thursdays; 2-9 pm on Fridays, 12-9 pm on Saturdays, and 12-8 pm on Sundays. More information is available on Instagram.