The context, in fact, is necessary: Sonderman and Salis have been speaking massive earlier than the coronavirus. Earlier than the pandemic disrupted the nation’s provide traces and exposed its weaknesses, Earlier than an avian flu outbreak precipitated rooster costs to bitter. Earlier than a battle in Ukraine jacked up the price at the pump, Earlier than inflation elevated the price of, properly, every thing. Again earlier than all that, Sonderman and Salis had a plan to beat Popeyes at its personal sport, not less than regionally.
By the point their retro-chic Honeymoon Hen opened in January, the world had modified dramatically. Earlier than the store served its first bucket, Sonderman was warning everybody they may have to regulate the costs on the opening day menus. Six months into its existence, Honeymoon has already elevated the value of sure gadgets twice. A two-piece combo of breast, wing and buttery roll is now $9, up two and a half bucks for the reason that shop’s debut, An eight-piece bucket has elevated by $5 (to $26) throughout the identical interval.
“It actually sucks while you’re getting your butt kicked on daily basis,” Sonderman tells me, noting gross sales have nearly doubled projections. “Then you definately have a look at the profit-and-loss assertion on the finish of the month, and you are like, ‘Holy crap, we misplaced cash after doing the quantity of gross sales that we did.’ ,
I point out these woes to underscore a couple of factors: Whereas setting a aim to compete with a nationwide chain that advantages from an economic system of scale is admirable, if not utterly bonkers, we have seen what the pursuit of low-cost rooster can mean further down the production chain, However extra to the purpose, Honeymoon Hen would not must go down that path. It has a bankable identify behind the younger model, and I am not speaking about Salis, who’s all the time seeking to blow up the business-as-usual mentality of the restaurant business. I am speaking about Sonderman, as reliable a chef as we now have in Washington.
Individuals pays to eat Sonderman’s meals. They’re going to shell out extra at Honeymoon, I believe, than they are going to at Popeyes. I do know I’ll, even with the inconsistencies I encountered at Honeymoon, as a result of Sonderman has generated a substantial quantity of goodwill amongst prospects, courting again to his days at Dcity Smokehouse, The man is cash, and Honeymoon supplies much more proof of it.
If Popeyes is a Louisiana kitchen, with its roots in Cajun nation, then Honeymoon Hen has arrange camp subsequent to America’s apiaries. The “honey” in Honeymoon is just not coincidental. The restaurant, tucked into the previous Slim’s Diner in Petworth (and stationed inside Ensemble Kitchen in Bethesda), incorporates the nectar throughout many dishes, beginning with its signature chook.
The irony, if that is the precise phrase, is that Honeymoon’s rooster is ready in a stress fryer, the cooker with the long, colorful history at KFC, not Popeyes. However the fryer is just not the rationale Honeymoon’s rooster has attracted a lot consideration in such a brief period of time, together with, I ought to level out, a Bib Gourmand nod from these stuffed shirts at Michelin. Or not the sole motive.
Sonderman has created an idiosyncratic recipe, one constructed on the lengthy historical past of fried rooster but in addition one which has the chef’s fingerprints throughout it. His rooster begins with a 24-hour brine in a slurry of pickle juice and seasoned flours. The approach is necessary: It helps to maintain the fried coating — a mixture of flours, cornstarch, smoked paprika, chipotle powder and extra — from sliding off the rooster like sheets of ice from a heat roof. I do not find out about you, however I dislike chasing bites of chook with the damaged items of batter scattered throughout my plate, as if I am piecing collectively deconstructed fried rooster.
Whenever you order bone-in rooster or tenders (referred to as “bites” right here), you may have a alternative on methods to end the chook: sprinkled with the unique honey mud mix (or spicy honey mud) or drizzled with sizzling honey. Whichever you choose, you may discover your rooster dropped right into a world of Sonderman’s making. You may acknowledge it from his work at Federalist Pig: It is a prickly atmosphere by which sharp spices — black pepper, granulated garlic, chili powder — attempt to dominate the discourse in opposition to the collective voice of softer, sweeter, generally extra acidic elements. On this case, honey, whether or not in dehydrated or viscous kind, supplies a lot of the counterbalance, and it is the underlying stress/concord between these flavors that makes Sonderman’s meals so memorable.
Each order of rooster comes with not less than one dinner roll, a candy, springy factor whose browned prime is brushed with a combination of melted butter and honey, then sprinkled with chives and huge flakes of sea salt. How anybody can eat only one is past me. If I had a stack beside me, I might pop them like M&Ms.
Honeymoon has created a fried rooster sandwich for every honey utility, whether or not mud or dip. The signature sandwich is a mouthful of dusted rooster breast, further crispy and barely spicy, whose extra honeyed components are misplaced among the many bun and garnishes.
My go-to sandwich is the new honey-dipped one, a sticky, two-handed freak with spicy pickles, crispy onions and extra to say than simply about every other fried rooster sandwich in the marketplace. The honey-garlic rooster banh mi is a notable miss, a tasty mixture whose elements are troublesome to carry collectively and solely vaguely align with Vietnamese flavors. The veg sandwich, by which a salty and steroidal oyster mushroom subs for the chook, simply offers me the willies.
Farther down the menu, I am a sucker for the fried rooster poutine with herbed gravy, a dish that slyly redefines a fry basket. To counteract the grease, you may wish to dwelling in on the kale-blue cheese slaw or the watermelon-feta-mint salad, a pair of sides that can gratify the palate and settle your conscience. In any case that fried meals, the very last thing you might have considered trying is a flaky hand pie, made completely for Honeymoon Hen by the pastry chef at sister operations Ted’s Bulletin and Sidekick Bakery, however then you definitely take a chew of the turnover full of cherries, and all you’ll be able to suppose is: Can I’ve one other?
The overview has been up to date to extra precisely describe the enterprise relationship between Honeymoon Hen proprietor Steve Salis and government chef Rob Sonderman.
4201 Georgia Ave. NW, 202-983-5010. A lot of the menu can be accessible at Ensemble Kitchen, 4856 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, Md. honeymoonchicken.com,
Hours: Petworth: 11 am to 10 pm Monday by means of Friday, 10 am to 10 pm Saturday, 10 am to 9 pm Sunday. Bethesda: 11 am to 9 pm Sunday and Tuesday by means of Thursday, 11 am to 10 pm Friday and Saturday, closed Monday.
Nearest Metro: Petworth: Georgia Ave.-Petworth station, with a half-mile stroll to the restaurant. Bethesda: Bethesda station, with a half-mile stroll to the kitchen.
Costs: $3 to $26 for all gadgets on the menu.