The June edition, in the midst of crucial protests, features a magnificent black-owned establishment in DC.
Welcome back to The Sunday Roast. At a time when the current state of the U.S. and the world weighs heavy on my heart, I always turn to the kitchen to relieve stress and pour my feelings into a recipe. The hatred and the undeniable systemic racism that people of color, particularly Black Americans, deal with is so disheartening. We must all listen to those that are at a disadvantage in this system, listen to anti-racist scholars and learn to change and grow. I hope you’ll join me in supporting black-owned local businesses as a small, conscious change, in addition to educating ourselves. You can even find D.C. area bakers that participated (or are still participating) in a #BakersAgainstRacism bake sale this weekend, and some even are Black-owned, so you can find which places to frequently get your goodies from now on. I just bought two delicious cupcakes from The Sweet Lobby in Capitol Hill!
This month: I took a hard look at my consumption habits and decided to support more Black-owned businesses in the historically Black city I now call home. I was inspired by all the love I saw from fellow foodies, especially FeedtheMalik, to work harder at my goal of diversifying the voices I feature in The Sunday Roast. On Twitter, I reached out to Roaming Rooster, one of the most locally famous restaurants in D.C., which I tried for the first time not too long ago and fell head-over-heels in love with, and was happy to see they were (only barely) free enough to answer my questions and send over a recipe. I know a lot of my fellow Washingtonians love this place and will be happy to learn one of their recipes. Remember to check out all recipes and past month’s feature at my brand new site, debuted last month. Also, my subscriber count is now at 81, and I want to hear from every one of you.
Some background: In a monthly newsletter, I combine a DC local’s story behind their favorite recipe(s), or ones that whip up some nostalgia, with photos and prose of my attempt at replication. These recipes vary in difficulty, but they are always ones close to the heart. This newsletter is sent on the third Sunday of each month as the name suggests.
A fun note: Make sure to mark this email as NOT spam to avoid the newsletter regularly ending up in the abyss. Sometimes Mailchimp email campaigns go straight to spam.
Meet Hareg, Biniyam and Michael.
This famous team makes the best fried chicken in D.C. at their family-owned Roaming Rooster restaurant on Bladensburg Road Northeast. Most Washingtonians already know about this restaurant, but are desperate to know the secret to their juicy, delicious chicken sandwiches.
Bini and Michael, two of the co-owners along with Bini’s wife Hareg, were born in Ethiopia and raised by a single father growing up. Their father taught them to cook, and Bini continued to do most of the cooking since he was the older brother, which led to his experimentation in the kitchen with different recipes. The family moved to Canada in 1994, and soon opened a sandwich restaurant, naming it Gooneys after the C-47 plane nicknamed “Gooney Bird,” a plan their father had survived a crash in. The business then grew with two extra stores in downtown Ottawa, but then in 2009, the brothers moved to D.C. so Bini could join his wife, Hareg, who’s from D.C.
The two wanted to start a new business in D.C. since Gooney’s hadn’t grown in the way they had hoped, so they sold the sandwich restaurants and used the funds and their food expertise to start a shawarma and poutine truck. Then they moved onto a vegetarian falafel truck and a pizza truck. They saw a gap in the market for good quality fried chicken, especially food trucks, so they experimented to perfect their chicken recipe while still operating DC Ballers, their falafel truck. Once the now-beloved recipe was ready to go, Roaming Rooster was born. The team started off with only one truck, but the popularity grew and now they own four food trucks, plus the brick and mortar opened in 2018.
Bini, Hareg and Michael are one of the most popular Black-owned restaurants in a city known as “Chocolate City,” and according to them, their success is “a testament to the ability of immigrants and black folks to work hard, overcome obstacles and stereotypes to become not only successful, but also a contributing community member.” During the Covid-19 pandemic, the store immediately transformed into a take-out counter, which Bini, Hareg and Michael say the community has continued to support. That has allowed them to provide free meals for health care workers at various DMV hospitals, while also partnering with protest organizers to provide meals for those marching in DC the past month. They say: “For us, it means a lot more than fried chicken. It’s about dreams, community, family, and love.”
The story behind their recipe.
The fried chicken at Roaming Rooster is heavenly. Seriously! You take one bite of the moist, crunchy, salty and perfectly seasoned chicken and you’ll never go back. I first tried their chicken and cole slaw salad, with a jalapeño kick in their vinaigrette-based slaw, and I was floored by the flavor in every bite. The bright cilantro added a fresh element to the juicy, greasy (though not too much) chicken and I instantly fell in love.
I already knew about Roaming Rooster and their delicious food from the August 2019 viral tweet that charged everyone to frequent the Black-owned, family-owned business instead of waiting in super long lines at Popeye’s during the chicken sandwich craze. Michael, Bini and Hareg say the D.C. community supported their food from day one, but the tweet really drove business. They said they appreciate the shout-out from the artist, which led to a lasting effect of an exploding volume of customers. The restaurant won Best of DC’s 2019 best fried chicken award, and even was a runner-up for best food truck, so their food spoke for itself before internet fame brought more Washingtonians out to Bladensburg Road NE.
When I reached out to Roaming Rooster via Twitter, they immediately responded and were open to coordinating an email interview since they were so busy serving up delicious food. I asked, which recipe would you like to feature, and they answered, the honey butter sandwich. I had salivated looking at the photos of their fried chicken, cheddar, honey butter sandwich on a brioche bun on their website, and I instantly understood why it’s their most popular item. Sometimes customers add dill pickles to the sandwich as a salty extra, but otherwise, it is perfect as is.
The other popular item, the Nashville hot chicken, is a favorite of the owners to sell — mostly because customers get confident and challenge themselves with the hottest spice level then start tearing up, followed by laughter and a request for water. They say the best part is seeing those same customers place the same order again. The honey butter sandwich can vary in spice level as well, but mild is popular and it’s the level I created in my attempt at a recreation of the sandwich.
Because the chefs at Roaming Rooster cook their food in large batches, getting specific measurements for the recipe was too difficult. The owners were kind enough to provide a video created by another food blogger that details the ingredients used in the sandwich, everything from the batter to the flour and the honey butter itself. Based off the ingredients and tips from the owners, and a couple of online recipes with measurements, I was able to compile the recipe below to help readers be able to create their own Roaming Rooster sandwiches when they need to stay at home.
Regardless, the most important ingredient is the creamy, sweet honey butter that melts on the hot chicken and contrasts with the salty breading and cheese. The popular recipe was developed by Biniyam, who always looks to try different recipes through combining ingredients to create unique flavors. The breading is a bit of a secret recipe, which is what makes their sandwiches so unique, but Biniyam shared some of the spices used in the video, so I was able to recreate the sandwich to the best of the ability and I’m eternally grateful to the Roaming Rooster team for educating me on how to make great fried chicken. Their final sprinkle of perfection in the sandwich? The brioche buns bought wholesale from Lyon Bakery in Hyattsville, Maryland.
More on those buns…
Lyon’s Bakery in Hyattsville is the leading artisan wholesale bakery that, according to Sarah, a sales manager, sells its delicious breads to most of the restaurants in the DMV, including Roaming Rooster and Michelin-star holding establishments. The bakery is minority-owned, with a CEO that identifies as Latina and and a COO, Alan Hakimi, from Iran. Alan actively travels to and lives in each place the dough used at the bakery originates from in order to make sure the recipe is perfected, then even ships the dough in from its originator.
Their manufacturing line is 6 feet long, so the work is very hands-on, using natural products without preservatives. Sarah said that the ceramic deck oven used at the bakery was custom made after Alan made a request, and the maker still makes the oven to this day. The bakery also holds the title of the oldest sourdough starter on the East Coast. Click here for more tips on sourdough starters, and here for more about Lyon’s Bakery. Unfortunately, our schedules were too different for me to obtain their delicious brioche, but I hope to try it someday (especially with Roaming Rooster’s sandwiches).