Whenever you’re launched to a newcomer to the market — as I used to be with Galito’s, a South African import that opened its first US location in Gaithersburg in April — you’re taking your possibilities when choosing a grilled fowl slathered with a sauce from the crimson -maroon finish of the chain’s warmth spectrum. You can simply find yourself with a one-way ticket to Thermonuclear City, no acclimatization requested and none supplied.
However you do not eat at a piri-piri joint and order the fowl grilled with a lemon-and-herb sauce. It would be like going to KFC and asking for a pot pie. So on my first go to to Galito’s, I headed straight for the purple zone. I ordered an espetada — principally a steel skewer that hangs from a hook, like a backyard device within the shed — spiked with fats chunks of breast meat dripping with “sizzling” piri-piri sauce. If I used to be happening with my first meal at Galito’s, I wished to no less than go down with a dish that appears like one thing that might put a scare on impressionable youngsters.
The chile sometimes utilized in piri-piri sauce is the African fowl’s eye, a potent pepper with a complicated history of migration, colonization and assimilation. Operations supervisor David Topper, one of many companions behind the march of Galito’s into the Mid-Atlantic, says he and principal house owners Waqas Hassan and Nadeem Khan get all their sauces straight from the mom ship in South Africa. The basting sauces are totally different from the bottled stuff accessible on the desk to drizzle atop your completed hen. The “sizzling” basting sauce, as an example, is thinner and meaner than the salty counterpart on the desk.
However both manner, Topper just isn’t aware of the pepper (or, extra probably, peppers plural) that provides Galito’s “sizzling” piri-piri sauce its distinctive edge. Regardless of the warmth supply, it is a flamable sauce, however not the sort that may make you seek for the closest carton of milk, or a priest. The sauce electrifies the palate sufficient to fulfill the thrill-seeking aspect of your persona — although not sufficient, I would enterprise, to appease true chile-heads — with out going full-on Putin by repressing the opposite flavors that give the basting liquid its character: the low hum of garlic, the tropical fruitiness of lemon, the sharp poke of vinegar.
The recent sauce is the way in which to go at Galito’s. It reaches its full potential with the signature flame-grilled hen: The seasoned grill grates model parallel traces into your marinated fowl whereas imparting a component of smoke to the meat, all of which intermingles with the new sauce for full-throated Portuguese hen, each observe loud, clear and harmonious. I used to be additionally given some semi-classified details about Galito’s “additional sizzling” sauce, the stuff seemingly reserved for people who put Tabasco on their breakfast cereal.
“A bit secret is our ‘additional sizzling’; it is the identical [hot] sauce. We simply put extra on,” Topper tells me. “And we go away it somewhat bit longer on the grill.” In different phrases, if you wish to double your pleasure, order your hen additional sizzling. There’s nothing to worry.
For these with historical past within the DC area — by which I imply those that have lived right here no less than 15 years — you realize that Galito’s just isn’t the primary South African piri-piri chain to check its menu within the Washington market. Again in 2008, Nando’s Peri-Peri determined to guinea-pig its hen on Washingtonians with its first US location on Seventh Avenue NW in Chinatown. Nando’s has since unfold like oil on a sizzling flattop, with greater than two dozen shops within the space. I ponder how many individuals even notice the chain’s South African origins?
I point out Nando’s not simply because Portuguese hen stands out as the subsequent fowl to unfold its wings within the DMV, following within the tracks of Peruvian chicken and Korean fried chicken, but additionally as a result of the founding father of Galito’s was once a Nando’s franchisee. Because the story goes, Louis Germishuys needed to promote his shops when Nando’s was shopping for again franchise areas. Not able to give up his piri-piri goals, Germishuys workshopped his personal sauces, apparently in his father’s storage, although you must surprise the place the reality ends and the legend begins right here. The primary Galito’s opened in Mbombela, South Africa, supposedly next to a Nando’swhich implies, from the outlet, Germishuys had both excessive confidence in his product or a demise want.
It is inevitable to match Galito’s with Nando’s, and never simply because People, as a common rule, like to rank issues. I’ve all the time beloved the inside design at Nando’s, with its emphasis on southern African paintings and classy fixtures. Nando’s makes fast-casual really feel so grownup, if in a kind of relaxed Soho vibe that solely cash can present. Galito’s, against this, is modern however sensible, as if each floor is designed for a simple wipe down after Junior throws his sticky lemon-and-herb winglets to the ground.
However Galito’s, no less than the one in Gaithersburg and probably others that the house owners will roll out within the higher DC area, has a menu extra attuned to American tastes. Sure, Galito’s has a burger for these trolls who insist on beef at a hen joint. However the place additionally has gadgets that talk extra to the second, whether or not a largely forgettable try at a fried hen sandwich or the extra memorable trio of Tex-Mex-style tacos through which grilled hen (basted with sizzling sauce, all the time the new sauce) is tucked into elastic flour tortillas with lettuce, shredded cheese and a protracted, beneficiant squeeze of a housemade condiment that mixes mayo with Greek yogurt.
Galito’s additionally has a extra memorable dessert than Nando’s: a sticky toffee pudding, sweetened with dates and a translucent drizzle of caramel sauce. Irrespective of how full I discover myself, I all the time have house for that sticky toffee pudding. However the dish I take into consideration most is the espetada, the skewer of piri-piri hen dangling from its personal meat hook. The factor is each grownup and childlike: hen nuggets for these with a way of journey.
Galito’s Flame-Grilled Rooster
15918 Shady Grove Rd., Gaithersburg, Md., 301-339-8967; galitosdmv.com,
Hours: 10 am to midnight Sunday by Wednesday; 10 am to 2 am Thursday by Saturday.
Nearest Metro: Shady Grove, with a 1.5-mile stroll to the restaurant.
Costs: $1.99 to $69.99 for all gadgets on the menu, together with household meals.