Back in September, Southside staple eatery and bar Flying Squirrel announced it would close its doors to rebrand and reopen as Ernest Chinese — a new American Chinese concept.
Co-owners Max Poppel + Dan Rose said there was a longtime desire to launch Chinese cuisine and to be more focused on one idea, shifting away from the ever-evolving concepts that Flying Squirrel introduced.
Fun fact: The name actually comes from Rose’s cat Ernest, who lived as the company mascot for Flying Squirrel + their sister business The Crash Pad.
Let the food wok for itself
Spearheaded by Chef Brett Jeffrey Norton, you can expect a high-quality take on classic dishes. Norton said he asked his closest friends and family for their favorite Chinese staples to help curate the menu.
All menu items are brought to you with the help of wok cookers. Norton broke down this style of cooking for us.
“It’s referred to as the ‘breath of the wok’ and when you’re cooking at these such high temperatures, as you toss the food in the air, the moisture in the oil fries in the air,” he said. “It gives a flavor you can’t get with typical sauté cooking.”
Norton added that more unique to this spot is the use of Sichuan peppercorn (for the spice lovers) in some dishes, which the chef has a background in.
Get tiki with it
Want a Mai Tai with your Mongolian beef? It’s possible. You can order anything from this full-service bar, including specialty cocktails + wine curated to pair with the dishes, beer, and spirits.
What we tried
Starters | Egg drop soup, hot + sour soup, and crab Rangoons | Editor Haley here. When speaking with Norton, he raved about the egg drop soup so much, that I simply couldn’t miss the opportunity in trying it — his sentiments say it perfectly.
“I’m ridiculously proud of the egg drop soup,” Norton said. “It’s a beautiful chicken stock. […] It’s the most honest expression of cooking and time and labor and love that we have on our menu right now.”
Drinks | Shanghai Sour + Hong Kong Highball | The flavors of rum and tequila spirits mixed with fruity and citrus flavors paired nicely with our entire meal experience.
Entrees | Gong Bao chicken (a Sichuan dish) + the Mongolian beef | The Sichuan peppercorn on the chicken left a beautiful, earthy taste in each bite. As for the Mongolian beef — both Poppel and Norton weren’t lying about it being a must-try with its tender texture and flavor.
The eatery, located at 55 Johnson St., will be open seven days a week starting at 5 p.m. Note: This spot is on a walk-in, dine-in basis only.