Pollito Con Papas – Albuquerque, New Mexico
I think a rotisserie is like a really morbid ferris wheel for chickens.
It’s a strange piece of machinery.
We will take the chicken, kill it, impale it and then rotate it.
And I’ll be damned if I’m not hungry because spinning chicken carcasses
make my mouth water. I like dizzy chicken.
– Mitch Hedberg
Comedian Mitch Hedberg may have meant it in a funny vein, but it’s no joke that Americans are finding rotisserie chickens not only sexy and sumptuous, but convenient, flavorful and oh, so easy to prepare. The latter three were reasons most cited by consumers for liking rotisserie chicken. A National Chicken Council survey revealed that in 2007, 52 percent of all respondents had purchased a rotisserie chicken within four weeks prior to being interviewed. In 2008, an estimated 750 million rotisserie style chickens were sold with more than 200 million of them being proffered by restaurants and food service outlets.
Since 1980, the per capita consumption of poultry–and not just rotisserie chicken–in America has increased significantly. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Chicken Council, Americans are eating more chicken than ever. The per capita consumption of chicken has risen from 48 pounds in 1980 to almost 83 pounds in 2010, a 72.5% increase. This increase is attributed to consumers desiring to eat leaner proteins.
In the coastal nation of Peru, restaurants and roadside stands featuring pollo a la brasa (an entire chicken prepared on a rotisserie charcoal oven) are as ubiquitous and beloved as burgers are in America. In the world culinary stage, this is significant because Peru (yes, Peru!) has been widely recognized by the cognoscenti as a delicious dining destination and a culinary trend-setter. In fact, Frommers Travel Guide recently proclaimed Lima, Peru as the “top food and drink destination for 2012,” declaring that “Lima is now drawing a new flock of visitors who travel all the way to Peru just to eat.” Peruvian cuisine. In 2005, Bon Appetit declared Peruvian “the next hot cuisine,” extolling its “vibrant ceviches, crispy, spiced rotisserie chickens and packed-with-flavor empanadas” then encapsulating its declaration with “this is one cuisine we could eat every day.”
What’s surprising is not that the culture-rich cuisine of a small, multi-ethnic nation rarely on the world’s stage is receiving such acclaim, it’s that it’s taken so long. Peru’s culinary traditions, after all, began in pre-Columbian times. Peru was home not only to the oldest known civilization in the Americas (the Norte Chico civilization flourished as early as the 30th century BC) but later to the largest civilization in the Pre-Columbian Americas–the Incan empire. Immigration melded the culture and cuisine of the Spanish, Basque, African, Moorish, Sino-Cantonese, Japanese and in the 19th century, the Italian, French and British with Peru’s indigenous peoples, the descendents of the pre-Incas and Incas, to combine the flavors of four diverse and distinct continents.
With our typical “land of mañana” attitude, Albuquerque hasn’t been as quick to embrace Peruvian cuisine as have larger American metropolitan areas–not that we’ve had much opportunity. In the year Peruvian was declared “the next hot cuisine,” the Duke City’s first (and only) Peruvian restaurant both opened and closed. Albuquerque–you’ve got a second chance! In 2011, Rene and Monica Coronado launched Pollito Con Papas on the southeast intersection of Broadway and Avenida Cesar Chavez. In August, 2012, the Coronados moved their restaurant to Gibson Avenue, just east of San Pedro. The specialty of the house is Peruvian style chicken. It’s addictive!
The Coronados have the pedigree to make this delicious concept work. The vivacious Monica is originally from Peru. Her face practically glows with pride as she discusses the cuisine of her place of birth and the successes of her family in the restaurant business. One cousin owns the fabulous and famous El Pollo Rico Restaurants in the Arlington, Virginia area. El Pollo Rico is one of the highest rated rotisserie chicken restaurants on the entire East Coast where Peruvian style chicken has been all the rage for years. One of her brothers is the chef at a highly regarded Peruvian-Spanish fusion restaurant in Berlin, Germany.
The Coronados are new to the restaurant business, but they did a lot of homework prior to launching their eatery. During their most recent visit to Peru (where Rene admits to having gained 12 pounds), Rene visited several rotisserie chicken restaurants, gleaning as much information as he could from the owners. Because local ordinances in Peru tend to be somewhat more liberal than those in America, Rene quickly recognized he would have to modify his method of preparing rotisserie chicken. He wouldn’t, for example, be able to bring onto the premises and use the 18 outdoor grills–ranging from smokers to barrel-style–he’s been using for years to prepare chicken in his backyard.
One area in which the Coronados don’t have to compromise in the least is in the uniquely wonderful marinades and sauces used in the preparation and serving of the chicken. More impressively, they do not serve frozen poultry–apparently an anomaly because city inspectors were nonplussed over the fact they had never before seen a restaurant open without a freezer. Each chicken is simultaneously brined and marinated for at least ten hours in a bath of several ingredients (vinegar, cumin, salt and pepper are discernible, but that constitutes fewer than half the ingredients in the marinade). The chicken is served with a creamy “green sauce” made with jalapeño, cilantro and other ingredients which give it addictive properties.
The entire Pollito Con Papas menu is comprised of whole chickens; boneless, skinless marinated chicken thighs; fresh, hand-cut wedge fries with ketchup, and chicken engorged chimichangas all served with that wondrous green sauce. By design, the restaurant does not serve tortillas, pico de gallo, or other popular extras. Rene’s objective is “to keep it super simple but incredibly delicious.” “We just give our customers a taste and explain how our chicken is prepared and how we are able to provide two whole chickens, fries, and creamy sauce for twenty dollars due to the fact that we have minimal waste. Where else can you feed four people good quality food for less than five dollars a person-our price includes tax.” Where else indeed?
Pollito Con Papas’ new home as of August, 2012 is in a much more heavily trafficked street and in a much more capacious building with generous parking than its predecessor. One thing that won’t change is the friendliness of the affable owners. When my friend Ryan Scott, the dynamic host of the galluptious Break the Chain radio program and I discuss what we love most about mom-and-pop restaurants, near the top of the list is the warmth and hospitality of mom and pop themselves. The Coronados didn’t need years of restaurant experience to understand this formula very well! It comes from the heart!
To ensure the highest level of freshness, Rene advises patrons to call in whole chicken orders two hours in advance so they’re cooked specifically for them and not sitting on a warming plate. Many of the restaurant’s repeat visitors have responded very well to this practice. Rene is contemplating ways to be even more responsive to customers calling in pick-up orders, perhaps even instituting curb-side service.
If you don’t happen to call in your order two hours in advance, there’s still plenty on the menu that will make you very happy. You might want to sample a bit of everything on the menu as we did. Consider the chimichangas your appetizer. Reminiscent of egg rolls on steroids, the chimichangas are sliced diagonally and are engorged with the restaurant’s wonderful marinated chicken. There’s no scrimping on the chicken which is so very finely chopped that the chimichangas become very dense and tightly packed. You’ll want to deluge the chimis (an Arizona diminutive) in the creamy green sauce which has a nice piquant bite New Mexican fire-eaters will appreciate.
The half-chicken–breast, wing and thigh–is an even better way to enjoy the marinade in which the chickens are prepared. The lengthy marinade process ensures deep penetration of flavors so it’s not just the skin which absorbs the ten ingredient melange of flavors. The brining and marinade process ensure every single bite is redolent with deliciousness while the process of slow-cooking makes a moist, delicious, non-greasy and very healthy chicken that doesn’t rely solely on salt for its flavor (as grocery store rotisserie chicken tends to do). The fact that each chicken is fresh and never frozen further seals in flavors and gives the chicken a texture you won’t find in poultry previously frozen (which tends to become desiccated after thawing). The accompanying papitas are fresh and hand-cut on the premises. They’re Texas thick and golden hued, better with the green sauce being a better condiment than the ketchup. Peru, by the way, is where potatoes were first domesticated. There are more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes grown in Peru today so it stands to reason Pollito Con Papas fries are among the very best in Albuquerque.
The boneless, skinless marinated thighs are a best bet for bone-phobic diners. Chicken thighs, not breasts as is the common misconception, are the most moist, tender and flavorful piece on a chicken. These thighs are oh so mouth-watering moist and the flavor profile is a nice balance of spiciness, savoriness, and peppery qualities with discernible hints of sweetness and tanginess, too. The discernment of flavors is an adventure in pure deliciousness.
There is nothing fancy about Pollito Con Papas. It has none of the over-the-top veneer, flash and panache of the well-financed corporate chains. What it does have is a wonderful product–likely the very best chicken you’ll have in New Mexico. This is four-star quality food prepared by very nice people and served in the most humble surroundings. Whether you order it for take-out or enjoy it at the tiny eatery, the operative word is enjoy and you WILL enjoy it immensely.
Pollitos Con Papas
6105 Gibson, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 13 April 2012
1st VISIT: 26 November 2011
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Boneless Thighs, Half Chicken, French Fries, Chimichangas, Inca Kola