One may drive past Spatch Grilled Peri-Peri Chicken and say, “Oh, boy, just what we don’t need — another chicken place.” Particularly on a stretch of North Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale where one can already find Pollo Tropical, PDQ, Chick-fil-A and Spring Chicken nearby. But I’m here to say this is no ordinary bird. You are going to want this chicken. And once you get hooked on the South African Peri-Peri pepper sauce that marinates, bastes and enlivens the poultry, you may need this chicken.
“The number of return customers has been amazing,” says Peter Boulukos, who oversees the kitchen for the Restaurant People, the ownership group that opened the fast-casual eatery in February. “The reception has been fantastic.”
Count me among the Spatch converts. It may be a one-note place — chicken is featured in sandwiches, salads, bowls and platters — but it hits all the right notes. The char-grilled chicken is juicy and flavorful. The side dishes are tasty and creative. The atmosphere is pleasant, the service is friendly and the prices are reasonable. And then, there is that sauce, offered in varying degrees of heat and made from a blend of lemon, garlic, spices and the African Bird’s Eye chili pepper. It is addictive.
They sell bottles of the stuff at the front counter ($3.90 each), in case you want to take some home and slather it over anything and everything. It is not sold in supermarkets or retail stores yet, but it should be. There are mild, medium and hot versions, along with nonspicy lemon-and-herb and sticky mango sauces. After customers kept requesting more heat, Spatch began offering an extra-hot version at the restaurant that is not available for purchase.
Diners order and pay up front, and servers bring meals to tables. The food also travels well as takeout. Servers will cheerfully pour and deliver extra shots of the magical sauces found at a side condiment table. There are cushioned booths, wooden chairs and wooden tables inside, along with outdoor seating. There are free refills on soda and iced tea. Wine and craft beer is offered. On a back wall, there’s lettering that reads, “Eat Clean.”
The cage-free chicken doesn’t contain hormones or antibiotics, Boulukos says. It’s raised on corn and soy beans and supplied by purveyor Grand Western of Fort Lauderdale. Whole and half chickens are prepared spatchcock style: split and flattened with the skin on. There are also skinless boneless breasts and thighs. Chicken is brined and then marinated for 24 hours in mild Peri-Peri sauce. It is made spicier to order on the grill with sauce brushed on.
The restaurant strives for healthy, clean eating, but diners may get a little sloppy digging into platters and sandwiches. The Spatch sandwich ($6.90) is one of the best chicken sandwiches I’ve ever had, an action-packed, double-fisted delight. Plump and flavorful chicken thigh, a succulent mix of light and dark meat, is topped with melted cheddar cheese, coleslaw, housemade pickles and sweet-hot peppers, and Peri-Peri mayonnaise, served on an absorbent potato roll.
“My wife craves them constantly,” Boulukos says. I can see why.
The Southwestern bowl ($8.95) featured chopped skinless chicken breast over black beans, avocado, corn, tomatoes and brown rice. The flavors were on point, but the dish could have used a bit more crunch, perhaps some tortilla strips or romaine lettuce. I had no complaint about the flattened half-chicken with skin on, which had nice crispness from the grill, or the meaty chicken wings ($8.95 for seven).
Side dishes were a high point, particularly the deluxe ones ($3.50). Sweet-and-spicy kale features minced kale with orange cubes of butternut squash, dried cranberries, golden raisins and pumpkin seeds. The squash is roasted with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. The kale is tossed with honey, Dijon mustard and cider vinegar. It’s great. Grilled corn on the cob is prepared Mexican-street-style, rolled in shredded queso, sprinkled with smoked paprika and drizzled with chipotle crema. Sweet-potato mash is tinged with vanilla. And there’s a hearty, three-grain tomato and spinach bowl featuring farro, barley and bulgur wheat with cubes of briny feta cheese.
Regular sides ($2.50) include thick-cut french fries that were crisp and well-seasoned, and coleslaw that could have packed a bit more garlicky, vinegary punch. There are chocolate chunk cookies ($2.50) and blondies and brownies ($2.90) for dessert.
Boulukos and Tim Petrillo, the team behind Fort Lauderdale restaurants Yolo, S3 and Tarpon Bend, partnered with Stavros Florias, a successful South African restaurateur who moved to South Florida earlier this decade, to launch Spatch Grilled Peri-Peri Chicken. If all goes well, it might become a regional chain. Boulukos says the next locations are planned for downtown Fort Lauderdale and Plantation. I can’t wait. This tasty bird deserves to take flight.
Spatch Grilled Peri-Peri Chicken
3848 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale
954-607-1703 or SpatchPeriPeri.com
Cuisine: Grilled South African-spiced chicken featured in sandwiches, salads, platters and bowls
Cost: Inexpensive. Chicken items cost $5.50 to $13. Side dishes $2.50 to $3.50. Desserts $2.50 to $3.50
Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine only
Sound level: Conversational
Kids: Children’s menu $3.50 to $5.50
Wheelchair access: Ground level
Parking: Free lot