Does Pio Pio make the best rotisserie chicken in town?
That's what it says on the sign outside the new Peruvian-Colombian restaurant off East Boulevard: “Best chicken in town.”
What do I say? Well, I have a hard time with “bests.” Editors are always pushing writers to declare “bests.” “Best ever,” “best in the known galaxy,” “best this side of Planet Poultry.”
To me, to declare anything the best, I'd need to put together a crack team of rotisserie-chicken eaters. (Oh, c'mon – someone assign me to do that, please.)
We'd have to pile into a bus and head out across the city, pawing over bones and gnawing our way through dozens of rotisserie chickens.
We'd stop at The Roasting Company on Montford Drive and Hong Kong BBQ in Asian Corner Mall. We'd try multiple Greek-style chickens. Just to be safe, we'd head to Plaza Fiesta Carolinas on Carowinds Boulevard and browse through all the booths.
Then – only then – could we declare Pio Pio the best.
But I bet we still would.
I had time to think about this when I stopped by Pio Pio for lunch recently. It was mighty quiet in there, just me, a guy eating at the bar and a woman dining alone at another table. There were also several employees, of course – and happy, enthusiastic employees they were, too.
They were quick to tell me Pio Pio isn't a chain, it's family-owned. But it's a big family, apparently, that has opened restaurants in Orlando and New York. So that would make it …
“We don't like to call it a chain,” my waiter told me. “Because, you know, people hear ‘chain' and they think ...”
Point taken. “Chain” usually doesn't mean great. And Pio Pio is definitely doing something good to the chicken. One waitress told me they marinate it for five days, while the waiter said, no, they marinate it for two or three days unless it's selling fast, and then maybe only one day.
Doesn't matter. The result is really good rotisserie chicken – burnished skin, juicy meat. Even the crispy wing tip was worth crunching on, a crackly nibble amid the moist, juicy bits.
The white meat doesn't have that dry, cottony texture so common to long-marinated chicken.
But if you think the white is dry, you have options. The first thing that arrives at your table is a plate with two sauces: a powerfully tasty white garlic sauce and a deceptive-looking yellow sauce that turns out to be hot, made with jalapenos and habeneros.
After a few bites of chicken, yellow rice and soupy red beans and sweet plantains – just the way I like them, with crispy-caramel edges – you can start playing with the sauces.
A little garlic sauce on the chicken. A little hot sauce on the beans. A little garlic and a little hot sauce on the plate, to run a fork of chicken through.
In the quiet restaurant, bouncing along with the kicky Latino music, I entertained another thought: Some entrepreneur ought to put together a pack of great Charlotte sauces. Maybe the Tico sauce at Roasting Company, Anntony's Caribbean sauce, the garlic sauce at Pio Pio.
Just the thing to take along when the rotisserie chicken team hits the streets.