If you're a restaurant doing fried chicken, it's not easy to differentiate yourself from the sea of fried chicken joints, so hats off to Sweet Malik's, a new Louisiana-style chicken spot opening in Arlington just north of I-30.
According to founder-owner Ahmed Williams, the restaurant will open in mid-July with a Cajun profile — and here's the distinctive part — that features a sweet twist.
"All of our menu items contain a touch of sugar or honey, which is fused with our secret blend of Louisiana spices," Williams says. "And we will make everything fresh and from scratch, unlike other fast-food places."
Williams, who works in software development, grew up hearing his father's unfulfilled dream of opening a restaurant, and decided to turn the dream into action.
"I'd always had this idea of wanting a restaurant, but became more determined after my son was born," he says. "His name is Malik, which is my middle name, and I wanted to give him something he'd have if I should suddenly leave tomorrow."
His menu is based on family recipes that he's developed and fine-tuned.
"I'm a cook, as well as the owner, and I worked on all the recipes with my parents," he says. "Fried chicken is the staple. It came about after thinking about Louisiana chicken, where you mix Cajun spices with a little bit of sweet. For the chicken, it's a little bit of sugar and some of your apple pie spices. I've probably made that chicken 500 times. And our biscuits have a touch of honey."
Another unique dish is his "Bayou green gumbo," with five greens.
"Gumbo obviously is a staple in Louisiana, but people are more familiar with chicken gumbo or seafood gumbo," he says. "Mine is about the greens. It does have meat, but that's just to add a great smoky taste to what is already a really good soup. And I serve it with a sweet rice that has butter and a little bit of sugar. It doesn't overpower the flavor, it just gives it another dimension. You bite into it and you're getting layers of taste."
The unforgettable-sounding signature item is crawfish mac and cheese. "We make that with three cheeses — pepperjack, cheddar, and smoked gouda," he says. "And then we mix in crawfish tails. It's like mac and cheese with an extra dose of crawfish. It's the essence of our restaurant."
He'll also do frozen daiquiris and sticky pudding-style desserts served in Ball jars.
The space he took over, at 2280 N. Collins St., has been home to other chicken restaurants, including a chicken and waffles place, now closed.
"We're lucky the space already had a lot of infrastructure we could use," he says. "I'm not concerned about what was there before; you can't judge the present on what happened in the past. I think you can succeed if you do things properly and focus on the product."
Beyond the food, part of the theme at Sweet Malik's is to summon a time and place from Williams' youth.
"Part of what I want to do is express what it was like growing up in New Orleans in the '90s," he says. "That's when I grew up and there was good food, music, and hip hop culture. I hope our atmosphere recreates what it felt like for me as a kid."