2021 Best New Restaurants // No. 7 Chicken Scratch
Of roast chicken, food writer Jeffrey Steingarten wrote, “Whenever I have nothing better to do, I roast a chicken. On average, I have nothing better to do about twice a week.” But Mary Randolph, author of The Virginian Housewife cookbook, said it best back in 1824: “No meat can be well roasted except on a spit, and before a steady clear fire – other methods are no better than baking.” Chef Nate Hereford knows this. With his new fast-casual Chicken Scratch walk-up stall, located in the recently opened City Foundry STL food hall, the former executive chef of Gerard Craft’s erstwhile Niche focuses on one thing: spit-roasting chicken.
In place of the tweezers and liquid nitrogen from Hereford’s days in fine dining, there’s a French-made Rotisol gas-fired rotisserie oven. It showcases whole chickens being licked by naked flames as the skin becomes golden and crispy, the meat ridiculously juicy (yes, it is mesmerizing to watch slowly rotating roasting birds). Hereford uses high-quality birds, about 3 pounds each, that he dry brines in sugar and salt (no injected solution here). He then rubs every square millimeter of skin with his aromatic house seasoning mixture before skewering them for the spit roaster. The intensely savory result is firm meat that’s full of more chicken flavor than any store-bought bird can provide.
With a concise and compelling menu, including a couple of chicken-based salads and sandwiches, you order at the counter for either takeout or eating in the communal dining space; the half or whole chicken, with accompanying side, is easier to eat at home. The three available sauces – horseradish-mustard, hot and the creamy house Scratch (herbed buttermilk) – are good but almost unnecessary. Given Hereford’s culinary background, it’s no surprise that the sides are seasonal and, to use a food writer’s term, elevated. Roasted carrots with herbs and locally made Hawthorne hot honey are accented with feta for a little saltiness and accented with a hint of lime. Marinated kale is dressed with a Parmesan vinaigrette, and crisp, golden jojo potato wedges are battered and deep-fried.
The simplicity of Chicken Scratch is its strength. It’s a place where Hereford has truly found his own niche.
Chicken Scratch, 3700 Forest Park Ave. (inside City Foundry STL), St. Louis, chxscratchstl.com
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