Peruvian chicken lovers flocking to Sardi's
The passion for Peruvian chicken knows no national boundaries. Pollo a la brasa is the affordable, fast-casual cuisine of the moment. The owners of Sardi's, Greek-American cousins Philip Emanuel Sardelis and Philip George Sardelis (named after their respective fathers), believe that.
They opened their first family-friendly Sardi's in Beltsville/College Park in 2008 and added another in Frederick in 2009. In April, Gaithersburg, the largest of the three, debuted with 150 seats in the high-ceilinged, cream and red-accented dining room and downstairs sports bar. A panoramic photomontage of Machu Picchu beckons from a back wall.
To order, walk past the salads and the steam table. The large posted menu is more varied than the typical Peruvian chicken place. The cousins, longtime caterers operating out of a Washington, D.C., hub whose full-service menu ranges from Italian to barbecue, include a few Greek specialties here. The Peruvian chef Ever Rodriguez also has an extensive repertoire. A 13-year veteran of a well-known Peruvian chicken place, he makes marinades and sauces in Gaithersburg for all the Sardi's. Amarillo (yellow) sauce packs a pleasant punch, and verte (green/jalapeno), an immediate knockout.
If you select the pollo a la brasa, your entrée will probably reach the cashier at the same time you do. If not, you'll get a number for your table, and your order will be delivered.
Chicken is, of course, the star. Marinated in herbs and spices for 24 to 48 hours and rotisserie grilled over charcoal, it develops a beautiful color and powerful aroma. White meat and dark meat remain succulent. A half-chicken and two sides piled high on a no-frills Styrofoam plate add up to heaven (and two meals) for $8.25. Pollo Ever (named for the chef) is a specialty. Also known as Pollo Parrilero, the deboned, marinated and grilled half-chicken is a standout.
With 10 broiled entrees including Carnero (well-flavored and pleasantly charred lamb chops) and Camarones (shrimp) and Peruvian specialties like the enjoyable Anticucho Corazon (beef heart skewers) and the popular Lomo Saltado and Ceviche Mixto, there's much to like.
Side dishes include thick cut fries, chunky fried yucca, dessert-sweet fried plantain, herb-roasted potatoes, herb-infused green beans, arroz chaufa (fried rice), mixed vegetables, rice, black beans, hominy-like Peruvian corn, tangy cole slaw and salad. All fried sides are cooked in canola oil.
Refrigerator cases hold sodas like Inca Kola, Chicha Limena, horchata and coconut water, a not too sweet refresher with floating coconut bits, plus desserts. The flan is first-rate (there's also a coconut variety) and alfajores are delicious cookies.
Three televisions display a soccer match one evening as Latin music emerges from ceiling speakers.
Weekends are peak periods. The restaurant features live Peruvian folk music on Sundays. Sessions alternate between 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. one weekend and 6 to 8 p.m. the next. (On Sunday, Dec. 12, the music will start at 6 p.m.) And something's always doing in the sports bar; on Thursdays, Salsa lessons from 7 to 8 p.m., followed by dancing; Fridays, Salsa and Merengue with cover singer Pepito Rojas, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m; and Saturdays, Karaoke featuring Karaoke Master, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.
The bar can be rented for private parties and has already hosted a christening, birthdays and soccer team celebrations. Christmas parties are on tap.
"We are trying to be a staple in the community," Philip E. Sardelis declares. Sardi's is an ardent supporter of Gaithersburg High School's football, basketball and soccer teams.
Chatting by telephone, Sardelis recalls growing up in the business. He rattles off the addresses of his father's former restaurants (named Sardi's naturally) in downtown D.C., where he worked as a Walter Johnson High School student. His father, now 80, recently visited the newest Sardi's.
"Dad loves it. It makes him so happy to see the success," Sardelis says.
Affordable prices and plentiful plates that please contribute to that success.
Sardi's Pollo a la Brasa
430 North Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg
301-977-3222, fax 301-216-3222
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sports Bar open later
Style of cuisine: Peruvian
Credit cards: All major cards
Delivery $15 minimum
Sports Bar downstairs www.SardisChicken.com