Millennials were on the minds of the owners of the Maryland-based Star Restaurant Group when it opened its latest attraction on 14th Street NW last month. As managing principal Desmond Reilly puts it, Chicken + Whiskey fuses “cheap, good, fast” cooking with “an alcoholic element.”
The first half of the recipe unfolds up front: a self-service South American eatery announced by an outsize Incan bird on the wall, mustard-yellow stools fronting narrow wood ledges, and a flock of birds tanning away on an oak-fired oven imported from Lima, Peru. Kudos to the owners for recruiting Enrique Limardo, the chef of the thrilling Alma Cocina Latina in Baltimore, as their kitchen talent just as the Venezuela native was looking to open a chicken place of his own.
The second part of the equation is accessed via a refrigerator door (a sight gag) in back: a bar featuring nearly 70 whiskies, a vinyl collection of some 1,500 records and a trio of skylights. While they wait for their cocktails, customers can watch a big block of ice winnowed down to perfect cubes with the help of a saw and a staff member’s sweat.
You can visit one or both venues, and fetch a cocktail from the bar to eat with your meal in the dining area, a greeter at the door might explain. But you can’t take your chicken to the rear. The owners say they don’t want the bar to become a chicken joint.
The signature chicken, available in three sizes, combines the best of Peruvian style (cumin, garlic, beer) with the flavors of Venezuela (bay leaf, honey and sugar cane). The finished product emerges from the fire bursting with flavor and, thanks to the honey, crisp of skin. Throw in some black beans, bold with sofrito and cilantro, and yuca fries, hit with lime and chile, and you’ve got a feast.
Another early hit on Limardo’s brief menu is a sandwich made with a chicken breast breaded in — move over, panko! — powdered cassava, then deep-fried and bundled with lettuce and tomato in a jalapeño-cheddar cheese brioche. Mayonnaise fueled with aji amarillo enriches every mouthful.
In a nod to Asia’s influence on South America, there are also thin rice noodles tossed with a treasure trove of goodies: roasted peanuts, breezy mint, juicy mango, shrimp, an Asian vinaigrette and . . . oh, yeah, some sliced poultry. Chicken lured us in, but Chicken + Whiskey is more than the name implies, and more than just for the kids.
1738 14th St. NW. 202-667-2456. chickenandwhiskey.com. Chicken with two sides, $8.99 to $12.99.