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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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Las Brasas, Decatur

World Dish with Gene Lee

World Dish with Gene Lee

Apparently, 2011 is the year of the chicken shack. Back in February, Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand opened in East Atlanta offering “slingers” (hoagies) stuffed with chicken sausage and covered with a selection of creative toppings to late-night weekend revelers. Meanwhile in the bustling Westside neighborhood, former Bookhouse Pub chef and Culinary Institute of America alumna, Julia LeRoy gave birth to LeRoy’s Fried Chicken — a walk-up southern-style fried chicken shack.

But long before chicken shacks became fashionable in metro Atlanta, John Koechlin, a Peruvian native, has been quietly running Las Brasas, a tiny, two-room Decatur polleria (“chicken shop”) that smells like the Fourth of July when you pull into the parking lot. This particular shack specializes in pollo a la brasa, Peru’s national dish of chicken cooked over embers.

The method for preparing this distinctive rotisserie chicken was first developed more than 50 years ago and, interestingly enough, its creator was a Swiss ex-pat living in Peru. Roger Schuler, a Lima chicken farmer, decided he could make more more money if he converted his farm into an inexpensive restaurant. People flocked right away to his polleria, La Granja Azul (“The Blue Farm”), for chicken slow-roasted over glowing embers. But his initial roasting method could not keep up with the customer volume. So Schuler and a friend devised and patented a novel kind of rotombo (roaster) that could cook a larger volume of chicken.

Chicken roasting on the 'planetario' (photos by Gene Lee)

Chicken roasting on the 'planetario' (photos by Gene Lee)

“Schuler called it the planetario” Koechlin tells me. “It was inspired by the solar system and planets that spin on their own axis and around the sun.” The chickens — speared onto metal rods that spin independently and slowly over charcoal embers — produce even-cooking around the whole bird.

Before Koechlin opened Las Brasas, he wasn’t so sure he needed a planetario, and so he experimented with different cooking methods using an electric and gas powered roaster. “The results in the electric roaster tasted like baked chicken,” Koechlin relays with a grimace. “So friends told me to roast the chicken in a gas oven and place a pan of water in the bottom so it would steam and keep the chicken moist.” But Koechlin states that the moisture caused the outer rub to drip off leaving blander results overall.

Fresh off the rotisserie

Fresh off the rotisserie

So Koechlin went back to Peru and bought his own planetario. Explaining the all-important difference, he said, “I wanted the ‘fume flavors’ on the chicken that can only be achieved by its fat dripping onto the embers below.”

Koechlin uses hormone and antibiotic-free birds, ranging from three and a half to four pounds, and marinates them overnight for 10-12 hours. He then applies a salt and cumin rub all over and slow-roasts them over natural, chemical-free coals for an hour to an hour and a half. About five minutes before they are done, Koechlin closes the roaster door because this “helps color the outside.” Afterwards, the birds are removed and rested for five to ten minutes to lock in their prodigious moisture.

Ready to tear into. Silverware optional

Ready to tear into. Silverware optional

After the chickens rest, the kitchen quarters them. Diners can order by the quarter ($3.99 dark, $4.99 light), half ($6.99) or whole ($10.99). I have to admit that I couldn’t even make it home before I was tearing into a piece with my hands in the car. I loved the way the rendered fat coated my fingers and the crunchy, little salt granules embedded on the charred outer skin brought out the flavors. When I admitted this to Koechlin, he proudly told me, “Peruvians eat pollo a la brasa with just their fingers. I ONLY eat it with my fingers.”

Las Brasa’s version also comes with a cool, creamy Aji de Huacatay dipping sauce made with spicy Aji peppers and the minty Huacatay herb — both of which are widely used in Peruvian dishes. “I didn’t offer the sauce at first, because I didn’t think Americans would like it.” Koechlin states. “But my son convinced me that people would enjoy it, and he was right!”

There is nothing fancy about Las Brasas. On a warm day, you can take advantage of its cozy, sunny patio, which currently acts as the shack’s only dining space. But getting the pollo a la brasa for take-out and eating it at home works just as well — with or without silverware.

LAS BRASAS
310 East Howard Avenue, Decatur 30030, 404-377-9121
Food: casual take-out rotisserie chicken shack
Service: no table service, food is ordered at the counter
Vegetarian selections: veggie wrap, sides such as corn on the cob, rice, beans, chips with avocado dip and Papas a la Huancaina — potatoes smothered with a creamy, cheese-pepper sauce
Price range: $
Credit cards: Discover, MasterCard, Visa
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, closed Sundays
Children: yes
Parking: in lot
Reservations: no
Wheelchair access: yes
Smoking: no
Noise level: standard
Patio: yes, only patio otherwise do take-out on a rainy/cold day
Takeout: yes

20 comments Add your comment

Mark

October 20th, 2011
7:49 am

Need to fix that tagline! I know this is Gene, because there are NO STARS given in this review-Way to Go!!! And the picture helps too. Sounds great, will definitely give it a try.

John Kessler

October 20th, 2011
8:10 am

Oops, thanks! So many buttons to push and boxes to check when you lay one of these things out.

Hungry Gringo

October 20th, 2011
9:00 am

This restaurant is the best smelling part of the PATH Foundation trail between Atlanta and Stone Mountain.

Jenn P.

October 20th, 2011
9:15 am

This rotisserie chicken may be twice as expensive as Kroger’s, but it’s 10 times as delicious. They have a terrific chicken salad sandwich, too.

steph

October 20th, 2011
9:38 am

Love this place! Their cold creamy cheese and potato dish with olives rocks too. Not sure why I like it so much, but it’s a must order for me.

James

October 20th, 2011
9:50 am

Best rotisserie chicken I’ve ever had is here. Trying to drive home without tearing into these birds first is agonizing.

JIMBOB

October 20th, 2011
9:51 am

I’ve had their chicken a couple of times and it’s really good, different from many of the other rotisserie chickens out there which taste mostly of salt and where the dark meat has turned to mush from too much injected brine.

Everyone should try LB’s chicken.

Davo

October 20th, 2011
9:59 am

The chicken is good; I don’t believe it is much better than Publix for my money. If you do like it I would encourage you to frequent the shack soon as the last time I was there rainwater was dripping profusely on the circuit breaker box. Made me nervous but only elicited a shrug from the owners when I pointed it out.

Elliott

October 20th, 2011
11:08 am

In a word: DELICIOUS!! I resisted the urge for a while because it was…a shack. Then I began to hear these great reviews from friends and neighbors. However, I must admit that it wasn’t until the devil inspired Scout Mob promotion that I gave them a try. I was completely blown away. Moist, flavorful meat, crispy skin and a dipping sauce to die for. I’ve been many times since then and I’ve never been disappointed. If you haven’t tried Las Brasas, please do. You will not be disappointed.

Alex

October 20th, 2011
11:16 am

There’s a really good rotisserie chicken place in Marietta called el Pollo Dorado. It’s on Sandtown Road off Powder Springs Rd not too far from the Marietta Square. The tacos and burritos aren’t my favorites, but the half chickens are fantastic and a great price.

FMFats

October 20th, 2011
11:57 am

I ran into John Kessler at Las Brasas a couple of years ago and wondered when there’d be a writeup in the AJC. Wouldn’t it be great if they could move across the street into the depot with a beer and wine license?

John Kessler

October 20th, 2011
12:10 pm

I have no idea who you are, but I’ll believe it if you say it. We get carryout from Las Brasas regularly!

Sophie's Choice

October 20th, 2011
12:43 pm

Review is spot-on: this chicken is deeeeee-friggin’-licious! Love all the sides they sell to go along with it, too–makes my mouth water just thinking about it…

Yet its true

October 20th, 2011
2:45 pm

Las Brasas is delicious. They also have great sides: roasted corn on the cobb, pinto beans, fries…yum

Jeremy

October 20th, 2011
3:27 pm

I’m sure Las Brasas is great up in the ATL. Down here in South FL, we have many Peruvian chicken joints: one called La Brasa, another La Granja, Goyo El Pollo, etc. They are all good. Peruvians know rotisserie chicken! Just wanted to comment on one thing: pollo a la brasa is NOT the national dish of Peru. That would be ceviche.

Donald

October 20th, 2011
3:32 pm

@FMFats, I agree. That space has seen nothing but debacle after travesty.

Steven A.

October 20th, 2011
5:06 pm

Add me to the unanimous praise for La Brasas. Back when I was fooling myself that I was a runner, I used to do circuits on the bit of trail in front of this place and one night rewarded myself with their offerings. Alas, the running has gone by the wayside, but Las Brasas chicken is now a fixture.

Chiatt

October 20th, 2011
6:28 pm

OMG, Las Brasas is some serious eats. Get some sweet potato fries, some potatoes with huancaina sauce – careful it’s not gluten-free (saltines) but includes a nice romaine salad in the box, and a whole bird and you are in for a serious treat. It is like the South American KFC without the fried component – the spicing on the chicken is amazing. And they use local Royal Oak charcoal. Can’t be it for the price.

Peggy

October 21st, 2011
5:33 pm

Great review of las brasas. I shall try it.
“definition of a good restaurant: better than an expensive restaurant”.

stephen

October 22nd, 2011
5:57 pm

Worth seeking out. Most tender and moist chicken I have eaten. Not to mention tasty. Good sides. Pinto beans and salsa rocks. Needs to fix the front door.