The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2018

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Page 28 of 100

28  /  the tasting panel  /  september 2018 WHAT WE'RE E at out at fancy establishments too often and you'll begin to long for the warm embrace of fast-casual. By conjuring that term, I don't mean the dubious cuisine of Mickey D's and Burger King; instead, I'm referencing the sort of restaurant where you order at a counter, get a number, and enjoy a fizzy soft drink (self-poured and bottomless) while waiting for a plate of steaming-hot happiness and joy. Specifically, I'm talking about my absolute, hand's-down favorite destination for fast-casual dining: the marvelous Nando's Peri-Peri Chicken chain with more than 1,000 branches in 40 countries worldwide. Established in a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1987, Nando's was founded by a Portuguese-born engineer who was so intrigued by the chicken cooked in spicy peri-peri sauce at a local joint called Chickenland that he bought the restaurant, named it for his son, and began expanding the concept. While its debut in the U.S. came relatively recently, there are now 40 branches distributed throughout Illinois, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. More are in the works, especially near college cam- puses, for this is great "student food": spicy, reasonably priced, and gener- ously served. Like tabasco chiles, peri-peri have a cult following and are not for the faint of palate. As they say at Nando's, "it's a pepper, a sauce, and a nod to [its] homeland." As an added bonus, the company grows its own on 500 acres back in South Africa, employing 1,500 area farmers. Bottles of the sauce are available to take home, yet they don't taste as good as they do at the restaurants, where you have options ranging from Lemon & Herb to Extra Hot—which, according to Nando's website, is akin to "tackling a fero- ciously fiery dragon." What do I love? The chicken, of course—served in quarters, halves, breasts, wings, thighs, and livers. This is sublime meat meant for tearing apart with your fingers, emboldening you to search out every shred and bit tucked in the most hidden recesses. Expect a pile of bones worthy of a murder of crows when you finish, and do note the chicken comes with sides—the best of which are the Macho Peas, "a rugged mash of whole peas, parsley, mint, and chili." It may sound goofy, but they taste so good I've taken to making them myself. There are also sandwiches, wraps, bowls, and salads, including a chicken and kale Caesar. I, however, prefer the peri-peri nuts and the hummus with a peri-peri drizzle—dishes that should be on every bar menu. For dessert, there's a traditional Portuguese custard called Naughty Natas, which is not made with peri-peri . . . unless you sprinkle it on yourself. With Nando's global footprint, I don't think it'd be the first time. Nando's signature dish, its chicken cooked in a spicy peri-peri sauce, comes with a side of peas mashed with parsley, mint, and chili pepper. Nando's Global Domination is Well-Deserved by Merrill Shindler PHOTO COURTESY OF NANDO'S

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