Fiesta vs. Inca: Battle of the Bushwick Birds
The half bird at Inca Chicken gleams big and moist. Fries, not so good.
Rotisserie chickens remain the unsung heroes of fast-food dining. While chefs generally revile folks who dig roast chicken -- considered to be the blandest and most uninspired thing on most menus -- the public clamors for more pullets, whether extracted from the hot case in supermarkets, or torn straight from the rotisseries at small ma-and-pa cafés, representing over a dozen ethnicities.
For those who like their birds "well done" -- Fiesta Chicken.
In Bushwick, in particular, the chicken wars are heating up. Up the slope near Wyckoff Heights Hospital, medical workers and outpatients alike are clamoring for roast chickens, and several places in the surrounding blocks are gearing up to sell them. But which to buy among many choices, since the prices are all ridiculously low? Just east of the hospital, a pair of places -- one Dominican, one Peruvian -- are currently in fierce head-to-head competition. On a recent Sunday afternoon, Fork in the Road decided to give both a try.
The windows of Fiesta beckon, not only with pollo, but with cuchifritos, too.
Fiesta Chicken (127 Wyckoff Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-381-3872) is the Dominican place. Recently renovated, with a small and tidy dining room, the place has pushed the rotisserie right near the window, which is also filled with fried things called cuchifritos. All day long a lunch special gets you a half chicken served with rice and beans for $4, or you can have an entire chicken for $5.99 with the same sides.
The chickens have been rubbed with a dark compound, composition indeterminate, but certainly containing plenty of garlic and plenty of salt. Flavored with sofrito (garlic and cilantro), the yellow rice is so good it almost muscles the chicken off the plate, and the beans (brown or black) are memorably mellow.
Wearing its crown of chicken feathers lightly, Fiesta also proves to be a full-service Dominican café, with a menu that runs to shrimp with garlic sauce, octopus in hot sauce, goat stew, breaded pork chops, and several soupy rice concoctions.
The rice at Fiesta deserves special commendation.
The jarring Inca facade is intended to attract chicken enthusiasts.
Gleaming brand-new with a yellow-and-orange marquee, Inca Chicken (122 Wyckoff Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-366-3763) telegraphs its Peruvian-ness, looking like no other café on the Wyckoff dining strip. The rotisserie is quite literally in the window, though streaky and smeary panes of glass make it seem like the bird chorus line is kicking in a dream.
Instead of rice and beans as accompaniment, Inca serves lackluster french fries, and the entire menus seems un-Caribbean, in a very Caribbean neighborhood. The bird also comes with pickled purple onions and an incendiary, milky, green hot sauce that you'll wish you had a gallon of so you could pour it on everything you eat from now on. Apart from the chickens and fries, there's little on the menu besides fried plantains, an avocado salad, mac-and-cheese, frozen mixed vegetables, and a few other sides displayed on the steam table. There are only three small tables, meaning the seating capacity is smaller than Fiesta. The chicken with two sides will set you back $4.50.
... like chickens in a dream.
Next: The winner is ...
The winner, partly because of that killer hot sauce.
It's hard not to love Fiesta, partly due to the cordial husband-and-wife team that runs the place, and the excellent rice and beans, which could make a meal in themselves. But the chicken has been slightly overcooked and is a tad dry.
The poultry at Inca is perfectly cooked, with a more interesting spice rub. (Some claim Peruvian chicken depends for its flavor on five-spice powder brought to the continent by the Chinese!) The fries are entirely undistinguished, but the green sauce to dip them in (called "aji") is a wonder.
Therefore, the decision goes to Inca Chicken -- though, all things considered, next time we're hungry in the neighborhood and want to sit down for a meal, we're more likely to pick Fiesta. Both are fine additions to the neighborhood.
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