The chef behind one of the most respected barbecue joints in the D.C. area will turn his attention to fried chicken buckets, chicken wings, and chicken sandwiches at a new restaurant coming to Petworth’s main drag later this year.
Federalist Pig pitmaster Rob Sonderman is busy developing a menu for Honeymoon Chicken, which will replace Slim’s Diner at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Upshur Street NW. Entrepreneur Steve Salis bought the space (4201 Georgia Avenue NW) in the spring, and Honeymoon represents the latest addition to the Salis Holdings group that already includes Federalist Pig, the Ted’s Bulletin diners, Sidekick bakery and cafe, and the recently rebranded restaurant at Kramerbooks, All Day by Kramers.
Sonderman and Salis first teamed up to open Federalist Pig in December 2016. The partners have been talking about the business potential for a fried chicken restaurant ever since.
“Pretty much since I met Steve and we got Fed Pig open, the conversation about fried chicken has always been there,” Sonderman says.
The goal at Honeymoon, Sonderman says, is to add higher quality into the style of food customers find at fast-food chicken joints. Sonderman is still experimenting with chicken brines, seasoning flours, frying times, and frying devices. Side dishes, in particular, will be an opportunity to “bring a little more flair,” Sonderman says, adding that he’s already finished recipe testing for several classic options. The chef is workshopping a version of chicken dipped in hot honey as well as a recipe for mumbo sauce, the sticky, sweet, and spicy condiment found inside boxes of wings and fried rice at carryouts across the city.
“It can’t be just as good as KFC and Popeyes,” says Sonderman, a D.C. native. “We’ve got to be able to deliver something better on the fried chicken.”
Salis says the fried chicken shop will submit its plans and permit applications under D.C.’s accelerated Velocity program with the hope of opening between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The owner uses words like “premium” and “gourmet,” while also stressing affordability and sustainability.
“It’s a once-a-week kind of stop for people in the neighborhood,” Sonderman says.
Sonderman says it’s too early to solidify menu options, but one ideas he’s testing for the fall is a poutine built out of wedge fries and chicken gravy. He’s also experimenting with fried balls of chicken boudin, a Cajun sausage stuffed with meat and rice. On the lighter side, customers might see a side dish like acorn squash with honey goat cheese, roasted hazelnuts, and pomegranate molasses. Once he feels like he’s figured out fried chicken, Sonderman says he might bring on large plates like fried double-cut pork chops or a chicken-fried tomahawk ribeye.
Salis Holdings has remained busy throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic. In addition to starting a Fedwich pop-up and retooling the cafe at Kramers, the group bought a custom mobile kitchen with a J&R Manufacturing smoker that will start selling Federalist Pig barbecue in in Hyattsville, Maryland, sometime in the next month.