Every once in a while you run into one of those places that you’ve passed by a gazillion times, every time vowing that next time you’ll actually go in and check it out? Well, in Montreal’s Plateau neighborhood, one such place is Rotisserie Coco Rico. We first noticed, not because of the food, but because Coco Rico has a long tradition of having elaborate graffiti-style wall murals. I no longer remember what the mural was like the first time I saw in in 2002 (on the way to Schwartz’s down the street), but by 2007 it involved a simple spraypainted chicken adorned with hearts. By 2010, it involved a group of singing chickens. And by 2013, that had been in turn replaced by an elaborate “Conquistador Chicken” mural. But that’s not what made us stop. No, lingering to look at the mural also immerses you in the intense aroma wafting out of the store, of multiple marinated chickens roasting away on their rotisseries. So on this visit in 2015… we finally had a chance to stop in and visit.
I’m doing an unusual one, I’m skipping the queue a bit since there’s a bit of a timeliness issue with this review (I’ll be returning to my Réunion reviews shortly). Last weekend, we managed to score a screamingly-good deal on hotel tickets to the NoMad Hotel in Manhattan through Jetsetter.com, so we decided to make a three-day weekend of checking out various eateries, museums (in particular, the new Whitney Museum and the Tenement Museum), and other sites that had been on our to-do lists for a while, while enjoying a nice hotel (and it’s associated cocktail bar, which we also rather like). Interestingly, however, in the two weeks leading up to our visit, several different sources all pointed me to an interesting new place opening to a bit of buzz in Astoria: Burnside Biscuits. These ranged from a NY Times article, something got posted to my twitter feed, and two NY-area contacts mentioned it to me on Facebook, and the various online reviews were very positive. So we decided to check it out. What I hadn’t realized is that Burnside Biscuits hadn’t even had their grand opening yet. I was a bit surprised how quiet Burnside was for a dinner on Friday, and our server said, “Oh, that’s because we are still doing our soft open.” Well, whatever various social media work they’ve been doing is working, since I certainly got the word, and I’m not that high up on the New York City food blog food chain. And it got us a nice little, quieter-than-normal intro to a place.
The next morning was, unfortunately, our very last morning on the island of Réunion. After a splendid breakfast at La Matilona, it was time for us to pack up for one last time and head back to St-Denis and the airport. But since our flight didn’t leave until 4pm, this did give us some time to check out Saint-Benoit (which had a wonderful farmers market), and do a bit of driving, this time going back to Belouve, where we had hiked over a week earlier. While it was somewhat bizarre to just simply drive to someplace that had been one heck of a grueling hike, we did get some awesome views. And then it was time to head back. Passing through La Plaine-Des-Palmistes one last time, we noted that since it was Sunday, the various vendors of “poulet bitume” were still out in force, and one place in particular, Chez Will Grillados, jumped out at us, so we felt compelled to stop off and have one more meal on Réunion.
I may have mentioned previously that the people of Reunion love their “pique niques” and driving around, so on weekends, particularly on Sunday mornings, the tradition is to drive around, get some food, and take it to your picnic spot. One of the preferred foods for picnicking is grilled chicken, which even has a unique name for the island: “poulet bitume” (literally, “asphalt chicken” or “roadway chicken”). On a weekend with good weather, the result is an almost uncountable number of places setting up a grill and selling fresh-grilled chicken at the side of the road. It’s not just restaurants, either, but houses, shacks, stores, and the like all set up with their grill selling fresh-grilled chicken and assorted sides. It’s quite the sight, and one that we had missed on our first weekend on the island (since we were far from the nearest road, up at the Gîte de la Caverne Dufour). But on our second weekend on the island, as we were driving along the southern coast by Saint-Philippe, we came across the beautifully-situated La Mer Casée right around lunch time, and decided to check it out for our grilled chicken.
On our way up to our rental condo on the North Shore, every time we were leaving Kaneohe and heading north on the Kamehameha highway, we ran into two places that triggered my “Offbeat Eats” sense. One is an older place on the West side of the road called the Hygienic Store, which is basically a convenience store (the name comes from it’s former life as the “Hygienic Dairy”). We never made it in there, so we’ll have to save it for another trip. But across the street is some sort of abandoned business, but out in the parking lot are two food trucks that make up Mike’s Huli Huli Chicken. There was something cool about the hand-scrawled sign for chicken that make me interested, and when my friend Mark in Kaneohe mentioned that they were actually really, really good, we decided to follow up on it.
As I mentioned in my review of El Pollo Rico, it has been a long standing tradition of mine, on every trip to the Ballston area, to go out for pollo a la brasa (a.k.a. Peruvian chicken). Back when I started that tradition, there was basically one place in the area to get such chicken: El Pollo Rico, but in the intervening years a lot of other chicken places opened up. I had been to, and enjoyed many others, but one I hadn’t been to was Super Pollo (which has a half dozen or so DC area locations). But on my latest trip to Ballston, some traffic backup coming in from Dallas cut into my schedule a bit, and instead of my usual El Pollo Rico stop, I decided to instead hit Super Pollo, since it is literally right next to the client I was visiting.
This last week, we spent an extended weekend in Montreal. While we always enjoy a good trip to Montreal, this time we were coming for a specific event, Mondial De La Biere, Montreal’s Beer Festival. This was their 20th year of operation, and Mondial consistently has a good range of both Canadian and foreign brewers come in for a surprisingly low-key event (compared, to say, the Vermont Brewers Festival, there’s no entry fee, just beer tickets, and the crowds are surprisingly light). But one does not subsist on beer alone, so the trip also gave us a chance to both check in on various Montreal favorites, as well as check out some new (to us) places. Our first dinner in Montreal this visit came form meeting up with my friends Rick and Sarah (also in town for Mondial), and their buddy Nick (with daughter in tow). Nick, a Plateau resident, came up with our dinner locaiton: Nouveau Palais, up in the Mile-End neighorbhood.
My last day on this year’s trip to DC had me visiting several clients in Arlington. One of these had me walking between Virginia Square and Clarendon Metro around “late lunchtime”, and it was impossible for me to resist another trip to El Pollo Rico for pollo a la brasa (a.k.a. Peruvian chicken). Starting, oh, around 15 years ago at least, pollo a la brasa joints seemed to start popping up all over Arlington. Indeed, I can think of at least a half dozen off of the top of my head. But El Pollo Rico is one of the older ones. It’s also better and cheaper than some of its competitors (although I admit I have yet to do an exhaustive review of Arlington pollo a la brasa joints, fun as that would be), so between that and its location, it’s my go-to joint for chicken in Arlington…
Some times the voyage is just as good as the destination… While in New Orleans, I wanted to make it a point to pay another visit to Willie Mae’s Scotch House. Since my last visit here in 2001, this place has been through a lot, including being featured in John T Edge’s Fried Chicken book, getting a James Beard American Classics award in 2005, and getting seriously damaged in Katrina later in 2005. Long respected as one of the area’s (and heck, the country’s) best fried chicken places, Willie Mae’s is well off of the normal tourist beat, being up in the 7th Ward on St Ann, and a healthy hike from our hotel…
As part of a project at work, I travel fairly regularly (at least 4 times a year) to Edwards Air Force Base, which involves at least 7 hours of flying, usually arrive late at night and leaving late in the morning (since the return flight is usually a red-eye). So, we’ve come up with a tradition that every trip out there, we stop at Roscoe’s House of Chicken n’ Waffles, either as a way of restoring our spirits after a day of flying, or as a way of preparing ourselves for an upcoming red-eye flight (since it’s basically dinner and breakfast at the same time) Roscoe’s itself is an institution. Unless you’ve either been to Harlem, or been to Roscoe’s before, most people haven’t run into the particular combination of fried chicken and waffles served at the same time.