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Roast Chicken hits Atlanta: The bird is the word

Gio's Chicken Amalfitano (photos by Becky Stein unless otherwise noted)

Gio's Chicken Amalfitano (photos by Becky Stein unless otherwise noted)

My own roast chicken is precisely like the celebrated dish served at The NoMad restaurant in Manhattan in one way. It isn’t the ingenious stuffing (theirs, not mine) of brioche crumbs, black truffle and foie gras that separates the crisp and burnished skin from the supple and juicy breast. It isn’t the appearance of the chicken (theirs, not mine), which comes to the table with its clawed feet sticking in the air and a massive tuft of green thyme sticking from its cavity as if it were a confused Chia pet.

The similarity in the two chickens lies in the cooking method. Like me, chef Daniel Humm likes to roast his bird just to the point where the breast is at its peak but the legs are still pink at the bone and tough. He cuts the meat away and finishes it in a sauté pan to serve as a side dish to the breast. My technique is a bit more inadvertent. I carve into the chicken, realize the legs might send my family to the hospital and finish them in a hot oven while we eat the breast.

That is the thing about roast chicken: As much as you may love the dark meat for its superior flavor and chew, you’re always looking for that not-dry slice of breast with its sheer, salty patina of skin. You love roast chicken because every serving varies so. You know to look for that nugget of goodness called the “oyster” by the thigh joint, and the crunchy, knobby bits of the wing joint, and the soft purity of the torpedo-shaped tenderloin muscle nestled alongside the keel bone, and that slippery strand of meat between the tibia and fibula, and that piece — wherever it may lie — that rested against the roasting pan and fried in the chicken fat.

As much as you may love a good roast chicken (or even a pretty good roast chicken), it might be a stretch to declare roast chicken has become trendy. If something never goes out of style, how can it go in?

But trendy it is. After word of the NoMad chicken got out last summer, various publications began pointing out that roast chicken has been shaping up as a breakout dish in restaurants around the country.

It is perhaps not a coincidence then that three of the biggest names in the Atlanta food world have turned their attention to the roast chicken. Giovanni di Palma of Antico Pizza Napoletana has turned the former Brinks cash depository next door into Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano, where the house specialty is Sorrento-style lemon chicken and the menu does not cater to the avian-averse. Chefs Shaun Doty and Lance Gummere (of Shaun’s and the Shed, respectively) have teamed to create Bantam + Biddy, a casual Ansley Mall restaurant. Though this restaurant has a full menu (that Jenny Turknett reviewed quite favorably recently for the AJC), the chefs hang their hat on simply roasted rotisserie chicken.

So I tried both chickens and, for comparison’s sake, pitted them against my favorite carryout from the small Decatur restaurant Las Brasas. There, chef and owner John Koechlin has his own method to prepare a classic Peruvian-style roast chicken.

All these chefs have their tricks and methods for non-dry breast, cooked legs, crispy skin and all those other qualities that make us all a little gaga for roast chicken, whether it’s trendy or not.

Let’s see how they stack up:

GIO’S CHICKEN AMALFITANO

Sorrento-style lemon chicken at Gio's

Sorrento-style lemon chicken at Gio's

Type of chicken: Di Palma says he tested the recipe with nine different chickens before settling on the birds from Bell & Evans, the same chickens sold at Your Dekalb Farmers Market. “I’m all about air-chilled chickens,” says di Palma, who says most other producers chill their chickens in a water bath, which washes away flavor. “These come from a Pennsylvania Dutch farm and have a higher fat content. They’re all natural, raised with no antibiotics and a total vegan diet.”

Pretreatment: Di Palma brushes the chickens with extra-virgin olive oil, then lets them sit for 12 to 24 hours in a dry rub made from Sicilian wild oregano, sea salt, cracked black pepper and garlic.

Cooking method: The chickens cook in a roasting oven set at a “slow, low temperature” for a little more than an hour. After it roasts, the cooks chop the chicken through the bone into chunky pieces, then charbroil it in sauté pans with flavor-infused olive oil and seasonings until the skin crisps. Gio’s serves several flavors of roasted chicken, including one with sliced blood oranges and rosemary, and Amalfi style chicken with roasted olives and onion. After the chicken crisps, the cooks add some chicken stock and Romano cheese to the pan juices and serve it up.

Did di Palma ever consider a rotisserie? “That’s French!” he laughs. “We’re Italian. We roast our chickens in the oven.”

Price: An order of Sorrento lemon chicken costs $15 and consists of half a chicken with potatoes, homemade focaccia bread and a house salad. Other flavors may cost a dollar or two more, and family-style chicken dinners that feed four to five people start at $34.

Tasting notes: These are chicken pieces you want to eat clean to the bone – cooked through and bloodless, but still tender. Though we took the chicken to go, we tried a bite on site to check out the skin, which was flavorful if not particularly crisp. The Sorrento lemon chicken — with its rush of lemon, oregano and garlic – was our runaway favorite.

Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano, 1099 Hemphill Ave., Atlanta. 404-347-3874, $

BANTAM + BIDDY

Rotisserie chicken with sides from Bantam + Biddy

Rotisserie chicken with sides from Bantam + Biddy

Type of chicken: Doty buys a brand called “Naked Bird” from Joyce Foods in North Carolina. Joyce is the same producer behind “Poulet Rouge,” an expensive crossbreed chicken popular on the gourmet circuit. Doty cites the price-to-flavor ratio as well as lower-density housing for the chickens as reasons he went with this brand.

Pretreatment: Joyce Foods brines the chickens at the plant for Bantam + Biddy in a saline solution with fennel and garlic powder. Because the chickens are pre-brined, the kitchen at Bantam + Biddy simply brushes the chickens with oil and seasons them with salt and pepper before roasting.

Cooking method: The kitchen uses an Old Hickory electric rotisserie and cooks them for 35 minutes at 450 degrees.

Price: $10.50 for a quarter-chicken with two sides, $14.50 for a half-chicken with two sides. A family meal to go features a whole chicken with three sides, great cheddar-jalapeño bread, salad and a half-gallon of tea for $42.50.

Tasting notes: We loved the flavor, which was simple but spot on. The pre-brine gave the meal a gentle but persistent saltiness clean to the cavity, and the white meat had that wonderful nearly sticky texture that makes your teeth clamp together for a second. And the dark meat had lost most (if not quite all) of its gooiness at the bone. The skin was well-rendered of fat and nicely seasoned.

Bantam + Biddy, 1544 Piedmont Ave., Atlanta. 404-907-3469, $

LAS BRASAS

Las Brasas chicken with a side of aji pepper sauce (photo by Gene Lee)

Las Brasas chicken with a side of aji pepper sauce (photo by Gene Lee)

Type of chicken: Koechlin works hard to find the best chicken he can and deliver it at the price his customers expect. He says he uses an all-natural chicken from restaurant supplier US Foods that is hormone- and antibiotic-free but not certified organic.

Pretreatment: Koechlin marinates the chicken for 12 hours with salt, garlic, pepper and cumin, among other spices.

Cooking method: The restaurant uses a special Peruvian-built rotisserie called a “Planetario,” so named because the chickens rotate on skewers set on a device that also rotates. It’s like the way the moon circles the Earth, which circles the sun. The chicken cooks over glowing natural charcoal, slowly. The smoke created from the fat hitting the embers flavors the chicken. After the chickens cook, they are quartered and kept warm in a steam-heated bin.

Price: $10.99 for four chicken quarters; $6.99 for two chicken quarters. Sides are extra.

Tasting notes: I always welcome Brasas night in our house. The skin, while never crisp, is so imbued with the flavors of smoke, garlic and cumin that I can never resist eating every bit from every crevice. It’s best to go early in the evening before the steam softens the meat. The creamy house sauce made with aji peppers and huacatay (Peruvian black mint) adds on another layer of flavor.

Las Brasas, 310 East Howard Ave., Decatur. 404-377-9121, $

26 comments Add your comment

Dave

January 24th, 2013
8:11 am

You are the only person I have ever come across who knows about the oyster. My father taught me about it when I was young. Absolutely the best flavor in the whole bird.

FM Fats

January 24th, 2013
8:21 am

I wish you hadn’t mentioned Las Brasas.

Wood

January 24th, 2013
8:28 am

Go try the roasted chicken at Kiosco in Marietta. Holy smokes it’s awesome! Raspberry dipping sauce on the side. I think I’ve remembered where I’m going to dinner tonight.

Veggie

January 24th, 2013
8:52 am

Oddly funny how the carnivorous crowd seem to enjoy their flesh source to be vegan.

Baltisraul.....

January 24th, 2013
9:15 am

Veggie…….’the carnivorous crowd’ That would be most of the known world!

gator32301

January 24th, 2013
10:03 am

roasted chicken, frozen yogurt, premium popcorn – is it 1987 again?

1164mgc

January 24th, 2013
10:38 am

Dang I want some roast chicken right now.

emme

January 24th, 2013
10:51 am

I knew it! Bird really IS the word! :)

Reds

January 24th, 2013
11:05 am

Mmmm the oyster. I always try to “pick the chicken” after my roomie and I get a rotisserie chicken. There’s a reason for that! ;)

[...] Roast Chicken hits Atlanta: The bird is the word [...]

Lorenzo

January 24th, 2013
4:18 pm

I can’t speak to the other two, as I’ve only been to Gio’s. But at $30 plus tax for a chicken dinner for two people (my wife and I got a half chicken and a pasta dish to share) I don’t think we’ll be eating there much. I’m sure the chicken is pedigreed and lovingly prepared with great ingredients, but the wonders of Gio’s chicken didn’t, for us, outweigh the bargain of a $6 Costco rotisserie chicken by enough to make us want to return. We’ve tried making Poulet Rouge chickens at home, and we’ve finally admitted that neither of us can appreciate the difference between a fancy free-range all-natural chicken and one that lived a sad, corn-fed, antibiotic-laden life imprisoned in a poultry factory.

Baltisraul.....

January 25th, 2013
8:36 am

Lorenzo…….a 1/2 chicken and a shared pasta dish for $30.00 for 2! WOW!!! Where did you go later to eat? I agree, Publix and Winn-Dixie have very good roasted chciken with varied flavors for around $6.00. For those that can afford to eat free-range and all other natural foods, it is probably a good idea. I don’t see those products flying off the shelves for obvious reasons.($).

Bob from Accounttemps

January 25th, 2013
9:49 am

Hate to say it, but I discovered “beer can chicken”. Stick a can up the rear, stand it upright on a 350 degree Weber and let it cook for about 90 minutes. Remove at 160 and enjoy. Moist and juicy all around with a crispy and not greasy skin.

Edward

January 25th, 2013
12:40 pm

Las Brasas and Bantam + Biddy are two of my favorite eateries. Very different from each other, but both very enjoyable. The prices are very respectable for the quality of food.

Baltisraul.....

January 25th, 2013
5:02 pm

Bob from Accounttemps……Lets go up the ladder some from beer can chicken. If you like BCC, buy a vertical roaster. I have used my chicken, turkey and capon Spanek Vertical Roaster collection for over 20 years. It is stainless steel and goes all the way to the top of the bird for cooking inside and out at the same time. It is faster, juicery and leaves a great outer crust. For example; a 5 lbs chicken; bake 15 min @ 450 degrees then 52 min @ 400 degrees, the formula is 13 min per lbs during roasting, depending on the size of the chicken and your oven heating quirks, total minutes will vary a little. I am sure there are many brands out in the market since I bought my set.

Baltisraul.....

January 25th, 2013
5:11 pm

Bob at……Spanek came on the market I believe in the late 50’s.

michael tuohy

January 25th, 2013
5:19 pm

Glad to hear a true classic never goes out of style! I guess when I opened Woodfire in 2002, I was 10 years ahead of the curve with our Wood Oven Roasted Whole Chicken, inspired by Zuni. I still cook one about once a week at home……
Hope ya’ll in ATL are well.
Best,
Michael

southern hope

January 25th, 2013
6:14 pm

actually, two hungry people can eat the “single” serving for $15 at Gio and feel really happy about it. I’ve eaten at all 3 places and all 3 are great…i might give a *slight* edge to Bantam but that’s because I really like the restaurant itself…really fun to sit on the bar.

Baltisraul.....

January 25th, 2013
8:47 pm

southern hope……getting mix signals from you and Lorenzo. Think I will back out of this discussion till there is more info.

N-GA

January 26th, 2013
1:37 pm

When I was 15 I was attending a US government boarding school near Paris (France). I will never forget having roast chicken at a local restaurant and realizing for the very first time that eating could be an amazing experience (and noting right then that my poor mother was a mediocre cook, at best). To this day I genuinely appreciate a well-prepared roast chicken, and have heard it said many times that certain professional chefs will judge an individual applying for work in their restaurants by how well they can roast a chicken.

Hillbilly D

January 26th, 2013
6:50 pm

If a chicken gives up its life for me, the least I can do is fry it.

La Dee Da

January 28th, 2013
1:26 pm

Its just plain funny to read stuff like this. I am tempted to raise my pinky finger and tilt my (aqualine) nose ever skyward while reading this Atlanta food hooey. Open a little place in some god forsaken address,put teeny little portions on a teeny little square plate and the snobby,snooty hoot tee toots will just eat it up.

I miss good ol Roasters and Tanners,personally …and have no desire to risk my life going downtown or to overdone and crime ridden Decatur to be ever so tres chic…

Pardon me,Oh Atlanta Food Writer Emperors,but where are your clothes?

BuHi

January 28th, 2013
3:54 pm

Wait – what? A “vegan diet” for a chicken? So is this the newfangled “veal” of the chicken world? You take an omnivore (yes, chickens are omnivores), deprive it of it’s natural diet and it’s supposed to be better somehow? Then, the farm is antibiotic free. So this “good” farm has more dead-loss due to disease, which raises the prices and you feel better about paying more because more dead chickens went in to the production of your one malnourished chicken?

So what happens when one of these non-”antibiotic-laden” chickens does what comes naturally when it eats one of it’s dead brethren (or a bee, or a small lizard, etc.). Is shamed and banished from the vegan farm or is immediately put down and sold as inferior grade chicken for McNuggets?

I feel sad when “chefs” buy in to this nonsense.

Lorenzo

January 28th, 2013
5:12 pm

@southern hope: You really believe “two hungry people can eat the ’single’ serving for $15 at Gio and feel really happy about it”? The single serving is a half chicken, and (gratefully, I suppose) it’s not a ginormous beast that has been pumped with growth hormones like a generic supermarket roaster. The half chicken was not quite enough food for my wife and me to eat for dinner. That’s why we got an order of pasta–to supplement the chicken. Granted, the half chicken plus pasta was probably too much food for us, but my point was that we spent $33 in order to make a dinner-sized meal. That is not in the range of what we budget for “takeout” chicken.

brillianteats

January 29th, 2013
3:51 pm

I agree, it’s overpriced for what you get at Gio’s and it wasn’t all that. I can make a whole (not half) chicken dish myself (free range, organic, no anti-biotics) at home, just as tasty for $15 or less.

Edward

January 29th, 2013
5:19 pm

I really hope you people do stay home and make your own chicken dinner so the rest of us don’t have to put up with your whining while we’re enjoying a great dinner out.