Chicken Run

The metro area's three greatest takeout chickens are revealed

Rotisseria
1409 W. Lake St.
Minneapolis
612.822.7400

Rooster's BBQ
979 Randolph Ave.
St. Paul
651.222.0969
www.roosterbbq.com

Market BBQ
1414 Nicollet Ave. S.
Minneapolis
612.872.1111
15320 Wayzata Blvd.
Minnetonka
952.475.1770
www.marketbbq.com

A bird in the hand is worth two in the grocery store: Saleh Hamshari of Rotisseria
Kathy Easthagen
A bird in the hand is worth two in the grocery store: Saleh Hamshari of Rotisseria

 

It's a Wednesday, 5:30 in the evening, the desperate hour. You're hungry. Terribly hungry. You have nothing in the refrigerator for dinner. If your great-grandparents had been a little more thoughtful, you might be heading home to a butler who would have this all in hand. But no, all your ancestors ever did was eke out a meager living from the sea. In your time of need, where is your wind-hardened salt cod? It is nowhere.

What to do? You could petition the legislature. You could arrange your car across four lanes of traffic, climb on the hood and weep and rend your garments until somebody finally does something. Or you could get some takeout chicken. Now me, I have been completely obsessed with figuring out who has the best takeout chicken in the Twin Cities. I don't know why. I suspect there's something wrong with me. Quite literally there has been a takeout chicken in my refrigerator every day for the last eight weeks. I have been to nearly every exit on 394 in my quest; I have driven so slowly down Central Avenue that angry teenagers have questioned my age, my sanity, and my ability to understand both simple English and universal hand gestures. Like any quest, my search has led to unforeseen personal revelations.

For one thing, I am ready to chain myself to a rooftop so that I may trumpet this dire news: Chicken can, in fact, be over-brined. Before this, I always thought that brine and chicken were a universally good pairing. Not so. I have experienced no fewer than three chickens that gave the outward appearance of glory, that were cooked on a rotisserie over a wood fire until glistening, but to eat even a few bites was to experience such mouth-puckering saltiness that one finds oneself running for a glass of water every five minutes, and, consequently, later, getting no sleep.

For another thing, a real wood or hardwood charcoal fire is the exact thing that separates good chicken from great chicken. Finally, there are excellent, amazing, wonderful takeout chickens in the Twin Cities, if you only persevere. Here are my top picks:

 

ROTISSERIA

Hiding in the heart of Uptown, Rotisseria has some of the best chicken in the state, in any guise. To make them, Saleh Hamshari marinates chickens and roasts them on a rotisserie that circulates above a hardwood charcoal grill. When you order your chicken, it gets taken off the rotisserie, chopped up, and pressed under an iron plate on top of that hardwood charcoal fire. This results in a chicken that is both incredibly moist on the inside and gilded with smoky black char on all the outside, the skin crisped to a bacon-like state of magic. Seriously. It's that rare sort of chicken skin that gets you examining the undersides of chicken pieces with the fear that somewhere a pea-sized fleck of skin might escape uneaten.

Rotisseria serves this bird with a tart, pale-green hot sauce that perfectly picks out the sweetness and char of the chicken. With this hot sauce the chicken gets a distinctly south-of-the-border accent, but if you get it home and find you have a little gremolata, aioli, piquillo pepper sauce, or what have you, you'll find your chicken suddenly made Italian, French, Spanish, or what have you. If you ever burn the main event of your dinner party, Rotisseria's chicken will fill any hole.

To anyone living within Rotisseria's delivery range (about 15 blocks), get ready to not believe your luck: For $14.99 Rotisseria will deliver to your door a whole chicken and two large side dishes. Order two sides of the red-skinned potatoes in a little garlic-dill butter and you'll have the basis for dinner for four. Otherwise, your choices include rice, refried beans, yucca, fries, onion rings, a small simple iceberg lettuce salad, or pita bread. (A chicken on its own is $12.99.)

The restaurant is based on the Peruvian model: In Peru, rotisserie chicken restaurants inspire the same kind of mad competition and fierce devotion that you see in pizzerias in New York or fish-and-chip shops in the U.K., but aside from the general devourability of the bird, there's nothing all that Peruvian about it. In fact, even though Rotisseria opened two years ago, I rejected the idea of writing about it as a Peruvian restaurant a number of times, because, as a restaurant, it inspires a certain "is that all there is?" shrug.

I really only began to appreciate the place after I got to thinking about my last trip to Paris and how excellent the chickens are there that come out of the giant rotisseries and land in a foil-lined bag with potatoes, and why didn't we have that here? At that moment, I stopped thinking of Rotisseria as an unattractive pizza place with an unshakeable after-bar feeling, and started seeing it as what it is: amazing chicken to have in your own home.

Please note that if you're getting the chicken to go, it takes them about 10 minutes to finish that sucker on the grill, which gives you exactly enough time to dash across the street to Hennepin-Lake Liquor and pick up a good bottle of wine to go with your dinner. For a white, I'd recommend the lemony and acidic Norton Torrontes; for a red, how about a Chilean Cabernet? Of course, these chickens go extremely well with beer, too, and those heretofore annoying 15-minute parking meters out on Lake Street now prove to be made just for you.

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