The Cluckin’ Cafe (Pittsford, VT)

During the pandemic, one of the things we started doing, due to spending a lot more time making dinner at home, was investing in a wine membership from one of our favorite Vermont wineries: Lincoln Peak. But they are located outside of Middlebury, and as the old New England saying goes “ya can’t get there from here,” at least not without a lot of driving down back roads. So even in the peak of pandemic shutdowns, we’d relatively frequently drive across mid-Vermont to pick up from their winery in New Haven, VT, which took us through several towns we don’t normally visit, like Rutland, Pittsford, and Brandon, VT. Throughout these drives, we’d often drive by a place that opened in 2020: The Cluckin’ Cafe in Pittsford, VT, and early this year, we were finally passing by when they were open, so we stopped and checked it out.

The Cluckin’ Cafe (the full name is The Cluckin’ Cafe and Culinary Institute) is the latest embodiment of an existing food truck from the Rutland area: The Rollin’ Rooster, which offered an array of fried-chicken items around the Rutland area. I hadn’t ever visited The Rollin’ Rooster, but had seen some good reviews of their product in Seven Days. The Rollin’ Rooster started in 2019, and by the end of 2020, they had a total of three trucks and had started a brick-and-mortar location, The Cluckin’ Cafe, moving into the space that had been vacated a few years ago about the Harvest Moon Cafe. Along the way, they greatly expanded the menu, added a menu of beer, wine, and cock-tails, and made a nice outdoor patio space (that we did not use in February…). And then there’s the “culinary institute” part of the name: they’ve added a training program working with the local schools.

While a lot of their menu appealed to me, like burgers, grilled cheese, or a salad with steak, the big draw for me was… chicken. I adore a good fried chicken, but finding good examples of it in northern New England can be challenging. That’s how Rollin’ Rooster got their start, and they still keep a “Food Truck favorites” menu at The Cluckin’ Cafe of their popular food truck offerings, ranging from the “Big Hen” (two boneless thighs with slaw and fries) to a variety of chicken sandwiches.

They had one of my classic favorites from my years living in Tennessee: a “Nashville Hot Chicken”: breaded chicken that’s been drenched in hot sauce, and served on a bun with pickles. Done well, and it’s almost like a Southern sister to Buffalo Hot Wings, and to be great, it needs to be perfectly executed, or it turns into a soggy mess. Well, The Cluckin’ Cafe nails it. To start, they use brined thighs, not breasts, which for deep-frying give a much more flavorful, tender, and juicy result than breasts do. The breading was crisp, crunchy, well-adhered to the meat, and starchy enough to hold up to the hot sauce drench allowing the sandwich to get consumed before turning soggy. Add in a toasted bun and pickles, and this was [i]exactly[/i] what I crave when I think “Nashville Hot Chicken”. The waffle fries? I’m not the biggest fan of this fry format, but they execute them well: perfectly crisped outside, and tender inside.

Overall, I love The Cluckin’ Cafe. The area has really needed a great fried chicken place, and The Cluckin’ Cafe delivers a solid product. I’ll have to come back and try their wings, chicken-and-waffles, and various non-chicken dishes at some point.

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