David Murray is a high energy guy, receiving and responding to texts, spouting food and menu ideas, and explaining the concept of his latest chicken venture called Cluckwerks before seemingly taking a breath. His enthusiasm is reminiscent of Chefs Brian Duffy and Guy Fieri. David is a restaurant veteran with a long backstory: raised in Mount Laurel, NJ, studying at the Academy of Culinary Arts at ACC, opening and toiling in restaurants in Philly and Atlantic City, and consulting at the now-closed Farmhouse in Cherry Hill, NJ before opening the original Denim BYOB there. I’ve been following Chef Murray awhile, but we never met until a recent late Sunday afternoon, just as he was wrapping up a wildly busy brunch at Denim (now located in downtown Haddonfield) where Cluckwerks serves as a pop-up 5 days a week. It’s a fairly straightforward business model with a central protein and preparation that’s all the rage right now: fried chicken on a roll with traditional and global-inspired toppings. The idea was borne out of necessity: one afternoon he neglected to stop at a Popeyes as promised to a co-worker, so he crafted his own rendition that was so good it demanded to be served to the public. The pandemic also had a say, and David, always opportunistic and business-savvy, saw a niche and a product that wasn’t lighting up the local radar.
Cluckwerks serves 11 variations of the Classic Chicken Sandwich, along with satisfying sides, salads, and sauces crafted in-house. David sources antibiotic, hormone-free Birds from Exceptional Foods. Chicken thighs are pickle-brined, then flour-coated and fried to order in small batches in one of four table-top fryers in the Denim kitchen, then placed on a toasted Amoroso Bakery potato bun before the sandwich is fully assembled with assorted toppings. Customers can also order chicken grilled or in strips and bites, all of which are comprised of breast meat.
#OpenSouthJersey ordered in-house (deliveries are done through DoorDash) and toted our lunch to neighbor King’s Road Brewery across Main Street, where every Thursday a Sandwich and Beer are showcased on social media. After an initial sip of signature King’s Gold Lager, we dipped thinly-sliced, crunchy fried Pickle Chips into the equally-addictive ’Cluck Sauce’ that’s made with roasted onion purée, pickle juice, homemade bbq sauce, and homemade honey mustard. The same jar-worthy condiment appears on the ‘OC,’ the juicy Popeyes homage topped with shredded lettuce + pickles that requires both hands (and a few napkins!) for each delicious bite. The airy and delicate gourmet, panko-crusted Goat Cheese Croquettes were topped with lavender honey + walnuts while the delectably seasonal, crispy Brussels Sprouts were tossed with pepitas, bacon, and grated Parmesan in a shallot vinaigrette. The high-end offerings ended with the ‘K-Town,’ a Korean-influenced creation layered with Asian BBQ sauce, Kimchi slaw, and sesame seeds whose sweetness + spice saturated the warm bun like a sponge. When Southern and worldly-influenced sandwiches like these are $10, it’s hard to resist pairing them with such sophisticated sides.
TIP: The success has been so overwhelming that David is opening Macwerks in the coming weeks, a Mac-and-Cheese spin-off with customized pastas, cheese sauces, mix-ins, proteins, and toppings.
Cluckwerks is open Wednesday through Sunday for delivery or pickup from 11:30AM to 8PM.