Review | These fried chicken sandwiches are for everyone, stereotypes be damned


It was a spot the place African Individuals might escape the gaze of White Washington.

Within the early and mid-20th century, America on the whole, and Washington particularly, was nonetheless a segregated land, with an imbalance of energy established by legal guidelines, casual agreements, vigilantes and racist stereotypes. Probably the most persistent, and pernicious, stereotypes concerned fried rooster, that staple of the American South. By way of postcards and advertisements, movies and commercials, interviews and memes, Black Individuals have been (and proceed to be) subjected to a multigenerational smear marketing campaign designed to erase their increasing social and political standing. It linked them to a dish that that they had a massive hand in creating, primarily based on a chook with a sacred historical past in West Africa, all by some means making an attempt to “prove” the inferiority of African Individuals.

“My argument is the Lost Cause was maybe lost but never abandoned,” says Adrian Miller, a meals scholar who wrote the 2013 ebook, “Soul Food.” “So these Whites that were stripped of power, they see this emerging African American cultural, political, socio-economic — at least the seedlings of that power — and so they started a culture war.”

“I don’t know why it worked, but demonizing African Americans and food was part of a message,” Miller continues. “It was part of a culture war to say, ‘Why are you giving these people these rights? And trying to integrate them in society? They’re not worthy of it, and here’s why.’”

Right here within the 21st century, Jim Crow legal guidelines are historical past. America has elected a Black man to the best workplace within the land — twice. However the racist stereotypes round fried rooster have largely held agency. They’ve gnawed at generations of Black Individuals (even a Black girl in England), at instances depriving them of the pure gustatory bliss that White Individuals take with no consideration, particularly when a Black man or girl dares to chew right into a crispy piece of rooster in public.

Years in the past, Dave Chappelle recognized the problem in a pitch-perfect stand-up routine, satire dripping from his each phrase. Chappelle pretends to eat his microphone, as if it have been a rooster leg, whereas a White guardian and baby watch from a distance. “Look at him!” Chappelle says, parodying an uptight White man’s voice. “He loves it. Just like it says in the encyclopedia. Look how happy he looks.”

Chef Rahman “Rock” Harper, founding father of Queen Mom’s Fried Hen in Arlington and winner of season three of “Hell’s Kitchen,” says he has seen the affect these stereotypes have had on the Black neighborhood. “I know people, celebrities, prominent individuals who will not eat bone-in chicken in public,” says Harper. Maybe extra insidious, these stereotypes have tried to strip away any sense of pleasure that Black Individuals have about rooster, a chook that their enslaved ancestors might need farmed, cooked, ate, offered and used to safe their freedom. This smear marketing campaign has all however mentioned, “We’re going to make you hate this very powerful thing,” Harper says. “We’re going to make you hate yourself.”

The loss created by this disinformation is incalculable, not simply the lack of energy but additionally the lack of pleasure. But, over the previous few weeks, as I plotted out my rooster runs — from the breakfast sandwich at Butter Me As much as a complete line of sandwiches on the new Roaming Rooster location on the Ellington — I observed a small development alongside the U Avenue hall. It mirrored a bigger nationwide development: Black cooks, Black restaurateurs and Black clients alike are publicly embracing the dish that racist America has lengthy tried to demonize as uncivilized.

“The heartening thing that I’m seeing” says Miller, the meals scholar, “is more and more African American chefs are saying, ‘You know what? I’m going to embrace my heritage. I don’t care what y’all think. This is glorious stuff, and I’ve got my spin on it. I’m going to make my contribution to the culinary scene by talking about this food and sharing it with people.’ ”

So, sure, America has been having fun with a fried rooster sandwich renaissance over the previous yr and a half, however it’s additionally been quietly reckoning with a racist previous that, just like the latest cries of election fraud, has completely no foundation in actuality. This may be one thing you may chew over as you chew into one (or a number of) of my favourite fried rooster sandwiches from across the D.C. space.

Queen Mom’s Fried Hen, (positioned inside La Cocina Cafe, 918 S. Lincoln St., No. 2, Arlington; 703-997-8474; rocksolidfood.com/queenmothersdc). Rising up in Alexandria, Rock Harper didn’t understand he was poor, he says, till somebody pointed it out to him. Maybe that’s as a result of Harper was surrounded, as he notes, with “a lot of friends and love.” His mom, Carole Harper, was additionally an ideal cook dinner. Her rooster, fried in a cast-iron skillet, nonetheless influences his strategy to the dish, regardless that his profession path has taken him to culinary college and thru kitchens akin to B. Smith’s and the Carlyle Membership. Harper depends on lots of the similar flavors that his mother makes use of: onions, garlic, paprika (although Haprer now prefers the smoked selection from Spain), salt and pepper. However over time, he has developed a three-flour mix for his dredge that makes for a skinny, shattering shell, which encases an 8-ounce piece of breast meat brined, not in buttermilk, however in a salt-and-sugar resolution. At practically $15, the Queen Mom’s Basic isn’t an inexpensive sandwich. Nevertheless it’s an ideal sandwich, possibly the perfect. (Observe: Be aware of the store’s restricted hours. It’s open for lunch Tuesday by Friday solely.)

Etta Faye’s Fried Hen, (1051 N. Highland St.,Arlington, 571-312-8791; ettafayeschickenshack.com). Etta Faye’s is a ghost kitchen working out of Smokecraft Fashionable Barbecue (No. four in final yr’s rankings). It’s the brainchild of govt sous chef Will Burke, who named the pop-up after his grandmother and primarily based its menu on two of her favourite comforts: fried rooster and buttermilk biscuits. In contrast to lots of the rooster sandwiches on the market, those at Etta Faye’s depend on buttermilk-brined thigh meat, not breast meat. “I don’t have any white meat chicken in the house,” says Andrew Darneille, proprietor and pitmaster of Smokecraft. These biscuits are so flaky, they barely maintain their kind, which explains why your sandwich is packaged to go together with little meeting. It’s important to apply your individual pickles and/or harissa sizzling sauce and kimchi slaw (for those who order the Sizzling D*amn sandwich, whose warmth isn’t as intimidating because the identify suggests). The DIY meeting is a great option to forestall your sandwich from disintegrating earlier than you’re taking a single chew. Whenever you do chew into the “simple” sandwich, your first response could also be just like mine: BUTTER! If this sandwich have been any extra Southern, it’d maintain a lighter aloft and yell for “Free Bird.”

Roaming Rooster, (3176 Bladensburg Rd. NE, 202-507-8734; 1301 U St NW, 202-808-2993; roamingroosterdc.com). My affection for Roaming Rooster is well-documented. The budding chain was based, partly, by two brothers from Ethiopia, the place cooks, not like these in West Africa, have little expertise with fried meals. However the homeowners — Michael and Biniam Habtemariam, together with Biniam’s spouse, Hareg Mesfin — are fast research. They’ve reworked the fast-food fried rooster sandwich into a press release of goal: They depend on breast meat from free-range, grain-fed, antibiotic-free birds. Brined in buttermilk and dredged in seasoned flour, the rooster is fried to a golden state, its crunch much less pronounced maybe than others. However the secret, I’m satisfied after many tastings, is the kitchen’s housemade French dressing slaw, which electrifies each chew. It’s little marvel that, with none exterior funding, Roaming Rooster has expanded to U Avenue, with different places to comply with in Tenleytown, the new Western Market meals corridor and Anacostia. “It’s the American Dream,” Michael Habtemariam says.

Fuku, (supply solely, accessible in Northwest Washington and Arlington; eatfuku.com). Fuku’s authentic location within the East Village was chef and enfant horrible David Chang’s try and enter the fast-casual fried rooster market — and reclaim just a few racist stereotypes. The partitions have been adorned with framed posters, that includes a few of the most offensive Asian characters in cinema. The sandwich wrappers have been printed with the phrase, ‘Dericious!” Chang wanted “white people to see it and feel completely uncomfortable saying it out loud,” he wrote in his memoir, “Eat a Peach.” Few diners got the point, and Chang soon dropped the coded references. Fuku survived the awkward branding to become a growing chain of ghost kitchens that offer fried chicken sandwiches and chicken fingers to those fortunate enough to live in the delivery zone. I don’t. So I parked my automotive exterior the After Hours tuxedo rental store in Arlington, typed the tackle into my app and knowledgeable my supply driver in regards to the subterfuge. I used to be rewarded with a New Spicy Fried Hen Sando proper in my automotive. It needs to be one in every of crunchiest rooster sandwiches ever, every chew cushioned in a smooth Martin’s potato bun, the contrasts seductive. The warmth, just like the chain’s authentic branding, isn’t any joke: Its spice surpasses some Nashville sizzling rooster I’ve sampled.

Butter Me Up, (651 Florida Ave. NW, 202-986-2079; halfsmoke.com). Positioned steps from Howard College, the traditionally Black college that serves because the beating coronary heart of the neighborhood, Butter Me Up is a breakfast pop-up inside Halfsmoke. It’s one in every of a number of ghost kitchens that proprietor Andre McCain has put in to outlive this mess. One in all Butter Me Up’s greatest eye openers is a sandwich by the identify of Feels Like House. It begins with natural thigh meat, brined in buttermilk, and topped with this gooey, superb mass of soppy scrambled eggs and a layer of smoked cheddar cheese. Someplace on this mountain of components, there are additionally caramelized onions, Sriracha mayo and Gordy’s pickles, all of which add moisture that tends to melt the crunch of the rooster. You gained’t thoughts. This high-calorie breakfast sandwich is mainly constructed to place you proper again to sleep. It seems like the right survival instrument for the remainder of the pandemic.

Stellina Pizzeria, (399 Morse St. NE, 202-851-3995; stellinapizzeria.com.) The Popeye fried rooster panini at Stellina could allude to its fast-food cousin, however the sandwich has nothing to do with the Louisiana-inspired chain. No, the inspiration behind this explicit Popeye comes from Avellino, a Southern Italian city located on a plain within the Apennine Mountains. Stellina co-founder Antonio Matarazzo hails from the realm, and his mother used to make a beloved roast rooster dish with potatoes, pork and sausage. “We’re like, ‘Let’s try to reproduce that dish just using different kinds of meats in a sandwich,’” says Matteo Venini, chef and co-owner. The result’s a jaw-dropping (jaw-unhinging?) sandwich, that includes leg meat that’s deboned, brined, cooked sous-vide for 2 hours after which fried to order. The rooster is paired with smashed fingerling candy potatoes, crimson cabbage, speck, combined greens and a spicy aioli spiked with three chiles. The flavors are so strong — candy, spicy, acidic, savory, natural — your palate gained’t know what hit it. And don’t overlook: The Popeye is sandwiched between bread constructed from Stellina’s pizza dough. Speak about a humiliation of riches.

Mélange, (449 Okay St. NW; 202-289-5471; melangedc.com). Chef and proprietor Elias Taddesse grew up with a foot in two cultures, one American and the opposite Ethiopian. It ought to come as no shock that when the previous wonderful eating chef tried his hand at a fried rooster sandwich, he included each influences. The Nationwide is American in look — exuberant, plentiful and messy — however its soul is Ethiopian. The sandwich is a riff on doro wat, the candy, spicy rooster stew typically described because the nationwide dish of Ethiopia. Deboned breast meat is marinated in buttermilk with the spices and chiles related to doro wat, together with black cardamom, black cumin and berbere. The flour dredge consists of lots of the similar components. The rooster is then tucked into an onion roll (a nod to the onion-enriched sauce for doro wat) and surrounded with a turmeric slaw, an Ethiopian spiced-butter aioli and a fried or hard-cooked egg. The flavors of this rooster sandwich are unmistakably Ethiopian, a reminder that American gastronomy is aware of few boundaries. We’re the higher for it.



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