Do you remember the much-publicized challenge by Popeye’s to the Chick-fil-A fried chicken sandwich dominance? Me neither. I was reminded of it, however, by the arrival of a Roaming Rooster branch in Tenleytown, not far from our home. Roaming Rooster was a major beneficiary of the Popeye’s ad campaign.
How? Just when lots of people were focused on fried chicken sandwiches, a local musician/influencer, Bri Hall, a.k.a La Hara, tweeted that, “if you live in the DMV* area you should check out Roaming Rooster in DC. It’s Black owned, and the founder Mike is Ethiopian born. He grew the family business from a food truck and has always been kind.” The tweet got 46,000 likes, a bit more than any of my blog posts, and thousands of hungry people headed to the Roaming Rooster food. The food truck continues, and has been supplemented by three brick and mortar locations. The Tenley location is the latest.
Roaming Rooster sells buttermilk batter fried chicken breasts in a range of sandwiches (regular, Buffalo, honey butter and cheddar, Nashville Hot, and club). The Nashville Hot comes either mild, medium, of hot, and other sandwiches may as well. As I was ordering through double masks and plexiglass, I couldn’t always understand or be understood. I just kept nodding and saying, “hot.” All sandwiches come with slaw and pickles, and you also can get chicken tenders and a side of slaw and/or french fries. You also can get sauces, honey mustard or sriracha mayonnaise, and you can top your sandwich with cheese. The chickens are — or were — free range.
I ordered a regular chicken sandwich and a Nashville Hot chicken sandwich, hot. I received the sandwiches promptly, and headed home to try them. Here they are:
The Nashville Hot is on the left. The sandwiches are generous, with two or three good-sized pieces of chicken breast. You certainly don’t need to get two. The sandwiches are fried well, although the ride home in individual biodegradable boxes and a paper bag interfered with the crispness of the batter. That’s always a problem with fried carry-out. The chicken is not overcooked, and the regular sandwich is well seasoned. It tasted quite good, and I’ll definitely give it another try once we’re allowed to eat indoors like civilized people, not that I’m bitter. The pickles are okay — they would be better with a sharper vinegar flavor — but the slaw is excellent. The cabbage is fresh and there is plenty of rough-cut Italian parsley, red onion, and some cilantro, all to provide a nice texture and counterpoint to the fried meat. Order a side of slaw.
I liked the regular chicken sandwich better than the Nashville Hot. The problem was the “hot” seasoning. The heat is not all that intense by my standards, but the heat comes from habanero peppers. Many people love habanero peppers, but to me they have a disagreeable flavor. The only habanero sauce I’ve ever enjoyed was the sauce they sell at the Big Oak in Salter Path, North Carolina. (Grab some of the Big Oak sauce, but head down to the Captain’s Kitchen for your grouper sandwich or shrimp burger.) I would be much happier with an equally hot or hotter sandwich based on jalapeños or serranos or cayenne or, best of all, those really hot roasted green chiles you get a Genaro’s Cafe in Gallup, New Mexico. I’m not sure what Roaming Rooster uses on the mild and the medium, but I’ll ask before I order another. Again, your views of habaneros may differ.
I don’t eat fried chicken sandwiches very often. Much as I like it, I only rarely eat any sort of fried chicken, and when I do I always order dark meat, which tastes oh so much better than breast meat. Thus, the Blue and White remains my favorite chicken sandwich in the DC area. But Roaming Rooster was worth the visit, and I’ll certainly go back once I can eat indoors to re-try their regular sandwich. I might even order a Nashville Hot if I can get one without habaneros. And I’ll be sure to get a side of slaw.
Give Roaming Rooster a try.
*DMV, for readers outside the Washington area is a local term to describe the Washington metropolitan area — the District, Maryland, and Virginia. I don’t like the term myself. To me, DMV means Department of Motor Vehicles, an agency that takes all the fun out of dysfunctional.
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