Ahead of opening their counter-service Indian fried chicken shop Rowdy Rooster, restaurateur Roni Mazumdar and chef Chintan Pandya have been thinking about Kentucky Fried Chicken. And Chick-fil-a. And Popeye’s. These chains have long defined the quick-serve fried chicken restaurant experience in America, from the bucket of fried chicken parts at KFC to a crispy, golden chicken thigh sandwiched in between two soft buns with a side of waffle-cut fries and a plastic container of ranch sauce at Chick-fil-a.
This is not the experience that Mazumdar and Pandya are cooking up at Rowdy Rooster, their quick-serve fried chicken restaurant opening on February 22 at 149 First Avenue, between East Ninth and 10th streets, in the East Village. In each of their ventures — including last year’s runaway hit Dhamaka at Essex Market and South Indian restaurant Semma in the West Village — Mazumdar and Pandya are adamant about showing the breadth of Indian food by honing in on specific regional dishes and presenting them in the most accurate light possible. The same goes for their fried chicken philosophy: Indian fried chicken isn’t about hulking fried chicken legs so much as chopped up, crispy bites of fried poultry sold as street snacks. There aren’t fries; there are battered, fried pakoras. This is what they’ll be serving customers at Rowdy Rooster.
“It doesn’t meet your conventional idea of, ‘Yes, I’m gonna get a sandwich and a side of fries,’” Mazumdar says. “I think that’s where the whole opportunity lies, is to be able to share a whole different perspective of what fried chicken can be, how it can be consumed, and what it means to a whole different part of the world.”
At Rowdy Rooster, customers start by ordering a choice of chicken — boneless or bone-in — and then pick from one of three types of spices to coat the chicken, from a more subtle garam masala mix to a fiery, smoky scorpion chili mix. The poultry is served with different kinds of chutney, including a mint and cilantro, or tamarind and date. Sides include two choices of pakoras, crispy fritters made with either potato or eggplant.
The largest of the fried chicken sandwiches, the Big Rowdy, topped with mint chutney, scallion yogurt, and pickled onions, nods to the cult-favorite masala fried chicken sandwich at the duo’s former West Village spot Rahi. The smaller one, the Lil’ Rowdy, is a slider-sized snack with two pieces of fried chicken on buttered pao, a puffy roll. A third, snacky sandwich, the vada pao — a wildly popular Indian street food that Pandya, who is from Bombay (now called Mumbai), likens to hot dogs in New York — consists of a fried potato filling accompanied with chutney and green chili pepper, all tucked into pao.
Crammed between a deli and a smoke shop, the restaurant isn’t much more than a kitchen and an ordering counter, plus a couple of tables that fit roughly eight to ten seats. The team splashed the space in bright hues that are designed to mimic the energetic colors and patterns of food trucks and street festivals in India. In fact, the restaurant itself is so small that, “if you really think about it, this is a food truck without wheels,” Mazumdar says. “This could have been a trailer and this might have been bigger.”
The fried chicken shop marks the first time that the star dining duo have applied their skills to a quick-service restaurant. It also kicks off a jam-packed year for the pair: The anticipated Masalawala reboot in Brooklyn — to be named Masalawala and Sons — is set to open in the next couple of months, followed by Kebabwala, another counter-service place in the East Village focused on a variety of kebabs. After that, Mazumdar and Pandya will be uprooting the veteran of the group, homestyle Indian spot Adda, and moving it to the East Village, in the former home of Filipino trailblazer Jeepney. The Long Island City location of Adda will remain open with more of a takeout-and-delivery focus to serve the surrounding neighborhoods, according to the pair, but they want to otherwise have the entire restaurant group in a tighter geographic area for logistical reasons.
Each of the projects fit into their overall mission of shedding more light on Indian food in America, whether it’s at a rollicking restaurant attached to a food hall on the Lower East Side; an upscale space in the West Village, or a sliver of a shop in the East Village that might as well be a food truck. Each of their restaurants “doesn’t have to look and feel the same,” Mazumdar says. “I think if you’re going to really get into the trenches of a cuisine, you’ve got to experience it from all different aspects.”
Rowdy Rooster is open from Tuesday through Sunday, 12 to 10 p.m.
Rowdy Rooster’s menu: