Honeymoon Chicken turns D.C.’s crowded constituency of fried chicken choices on its head by bringing Petworth a gussied-up place to wash down slow-brined birds with bubbly.
The anticipated poultry palace (4201 Georgia Avenue NW) opens on Wednesday, January 12, for indoor dining and takeout and delivery daily via Toast (11 a.m. to 9 p.m.). All natural, cage-free chicken gets a pickle brine bath for 24 hours before taking a trip into a pressure fryer. Along with build-your-own buckets of bone-in white and dark meat, crispy chicken makes appearances in salads, sandwiches, and atop sweet corn waffles.
Executive chef Rob Sonderman already has a carnivorous following as pit master at Federalist Pig, the perennially packed Adams Morgan barbecue shop he opened in 2016 with business partner and &pizza co-founder Steve Salis.
The pandemic proved to be a prime time to push out the portable poultry plan the pair hatched years ago. Honeymoon Chicken injects a retro-chic look into the rectangular space that formerly housed Slim’s Diner, complete with whimsical wallpaper, slick camel-colored booths, and glossy blue tiling around a 15-seat bar and open kitchen.
“We’ve always talked about doing a fried chicken concept,” says Sonderman, adding Popeye’s has cornered the D.C. market for “far too long.”
At Honeymoon Chicken, the baseline order is doused in honey dust –- a combination of honey powder, smoked paprika, salt, and garlic powder. To crank things up a notch, chicken can be dipped in a hot honey sauce. The sweet-and-sticky upsell gets a kick from habanero peppers and requires a nearby napkin. Hot honey also plays a starring role in sides, from cauliflower mixed with melty dollops goat cheese to Brussels sprouts.
Hot honey even finds a home in its margarita ($8), finished with a spicy salted rim and mango slice. A slushy machine near the renovated bar brings summer to life, charged with sending out spiked strawberry lemonades to match a pastel pink ceiling. A short list of opening drafts features locals like Ivy City’s Other Half Brewing.
For a bucket with an elegant upgrade of French bubbles, consider the pricey Honeymooner add-on to its namesake eight-piece bucket ($21). The half-bottle of Veuve Clicquot ticks up the price to $80.
“It’s a fun juxtaposition of something expensive and something low brow that seem to go together well,” he says.
It’s not the first time D.C. has seen the unlikely combo. During the pandemic, Brookland wine bar Primrose toyed with the takeout idea of fried chicken and bubbles. And respected Miami import Yardbird debuted downtown last year with a big bar program and thick-battered chicken in glam gold buckets.
Honeymoon Chicken’s menu largely caters to repeat customers over special occasion visits, however. A two-piece chicken order with a roll and sauce starts at $6, while a five-piece order of jumbo wings is $13.
“We’re shaking up the status quo while still being affordable and recognizable,” he says.
DMV diners got a first taste of Honeymoon Chicken last spring as part of Bethesda food hall Ensemble Kitchen’s opening lineup, and the vendor continues to send out sandwiches and sides. Its brick-and-mortar debut brings bone-in wings, drums, thighs, and breasts to the table, which sets itself apart from newer D.C. favorites like Hot Lola’s and Roaming Rooster.
“As good as they are, they just do sandwiches pretty much,” he says.
To create its bone-in delights, Honeymoon Chicken taps into the same pressure cooker technology KFC helped develop a few years back.
“The machine works great for consistency — meat is juicy, moist, and properly cooked to get a crispy outside,” he says.
Its answer to Parker House rolls are made by Hyattsville’s Uptown Bakers. The plump, honey-glazed accoutrements to chicken combos are topped with chives and Maldon sea salt crystals — a go-to finish at upscale steakhouses.
Familiar sides also arrive in fancied up format. Cole slaw gets a light and refreshing kick from cilantro and lime vinaigrette, while an ultra creamy mac and cheese employs gruyere, fontina, sharp cheddar and Parmesan. Wedge fries stand apart from KFC lookalikes with a house seasoning. Order the spuds solo or in poutine, a Canadian classic comprised of cheese curds, chicken gravy, and chives.
A non-chicken sandwich section features fried delights like oyster mushrooms piled high on a toasted bun or cornmeal-breaded shrimp po’boy on a hoagie. Pescatarians can also opt for fried shrimp or flounder seafood baskets.
Nostalgic desserts include an orange creamsicle snowball and fried hand pies in banana cream and blueberry flavors. Salis’s sibling establishments contribute ingredients for a sundae, built with Sidekick Bakery’s Cosmic brownie and a chocolate marshmallow tart from Ted’s Bulletin.
Supply chain issues during the pandemic have posed a challenge, says Sonderman, but chicken prices have luckily stayed relatively reasonable in comparison to beef and pork. He never thought he’d be selling Federalist Pig’s brisket sandwiches for $12 or up, but here we are.
“Even at $14.50 we’re not making good money but I can’t see ourselves raising prices more. We don’t want to alienate customers,” he says.
Federalist Pig is gearing up to expand into the next-door space that formerly housed a Cricket, and its FedMobile truck in Hyattsville is a placeholder while its nearby brick-and-mortar home waits for approvals.