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Good roasted chicken in N'ville

dickson d | Sep 29, 200301:44 PM

It has been discussed before that something Chicago lacks is good roasted chicken of the latin american or european, fast food sort. For whatever reason, while such chains proliferate in Miami, for example, there are none in Chicago. Perhaps, it is because we are a beef eating sort, or maybe between the fried chicken joints, broasted chicken and the supermarkets' roasted chickens, any other options have been squeezed out. Boston Market purports to fill such a niche, but their product is a sorry substitute between the mushy texture, and the weird, salty marinade they use. But I truly love good roasted chicken, and admit to eating at Boston Market from time to time just because there is no option.

A good roasted chicken should be crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. Marination is permissible, but the flavors should be those of chicken, distinguishable olive oil, garlic, lemon, or other real herbs and flavorings, not some mysterious potion. Wood or charcoal smoke flavor is a big plus. The chicken should not be at all greasy. Such a chicken is a pure delight, and is not very hard to prepare, really, though I have never gotten it quite right. IMO, anyway. Such things exist (in fact, in its Chicago area death throes, 20 years ago, the Lums chain which had merged with a German or Austrian chain called Weinerwald, offered a wonderful roast chicken, but it is long gone from these parts), just not here.

Yesterday I needed a quick bite on my way from one place to another. My path took me past a place I have passed many times before, and even eaten at once or twice, Gematos Grill. I had always treated Gematos as a Greek grill and eaten beef, hot dogs or maybe Gyros (no more Kronos or other processed Gyros for me, BTW, now that I have had the real thing at Mythos, I am spoiled). The food had been serviceable.

Scanning their profusion of offerings, and you can see the menu through the link below, a little sign offering a Greek Chicken meal caught my eye. Eat a little now, take the rest home, what a deal. What I got was 1/2 roast chicken with a lemon wedge, Greek roast potatos (4 wedges, I think, so 2/3 of a potato?), a piece of garlic bread, a small container of cole slaw, and a drink. Pretty decent. The chicken was real, just a wood roasted chicken, maybe lightly marinated but I am pretty sure it is the same thing they would use for their barbecued chicken. Wonderfully crispy and flavorful skin, good pure chicken taste over all. The white meat was a little dry for my taste, but it was definitely promising enough to go back and see if that varies with time of day, etc. The leftovers were very good cold, too. The only thing greek about the chicken was the lemon wedge. The greek potatos were the real deal, right flavors, properly browned, again a little overcooked, but good. The garlic bread was dispappointing, bland, buttery, though I am generally not a garlic bread fan, so you may wish to keep that in mind. The cole slaw was creamy, fresh and amazingly bland - not a bad experience, but I would use quite a bit of pepper on it next time. So, yes, the whole meal was under-seasoned by my standards, but that only highlighted the fact that the ingredients were pretty darned fresh and of good quality.

How, in my previous visits, I missed the focus on wood grilling from the signage, and the smell of hickory which was so strong this time, is beyond me. I guess I had just categorized it as a Gyros joint in my mind. The whole pink palette of the place is also a bit interesting.

Worth checking out if you are in the neighborhood, and even might be worth a trip if you want some wood-roasted chicken at a good price. Next time I will ask for a sample of their bbq sauce, and if that passes the test will try the barbecue chicken. Big if, though.



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