[For the second part of this review, a brilliant takedown of those who prefer supporting corporate interests over local restaurants, please see Janey Wong's "In Defense of the $34 Chicken."—eds]
Rotigo, a new counter-service restaurant, wine bar, and market, is a “choose-your-own-adventure” situation built around rotisserie chicken by jack of all culinary trades Cate Hughes. The many hats she’s worn in the industry include consulting, managing operations, doing fiscal analysis, putting together beverage programs, and more. This is her second brick-and-mortar and the 13th restaurant she’s been involved in opening.
“The concept really came out of how I like to eat, which is healthy and fresh. My daughter has a ton of pretty life-threatening allergies, so as a parent I’m super conscientious about giving people options without compromising flavor,” said Hughes. Everything is made à la minute (to order), so diners with dietary restrictions can request that ingredients be omitted.
Rotigo (the name is short for rotisserie to go) sources their pasture-raised chickens from Cooks Venture. Shipments come in thrice weekly, and the fresh—never frozen—birds are brined for 48 hours before going into the air chiller for 12-14 hours, which allows them to develop a crispy skin. From there, they’re rubbed with a mix of Mediterranean spices and head for the rotisserie. Rotigo’s rotisserie can roast up to 40 chickens at a time, with chickens always at the ready for folks wanting to grab and go.
The rotisserie chickens are available by the whole ($34), half ($19), or quarter ($10) and are accompanied by your choice of sauce (chermoula, salsa verde, garlic chili oil, chili-garlic aioli, and green goddess aioli), all of which are vegan. Once you make those selections, bolster your meal with à la carte vegan veggie sides (one portion feeds two) like smashed yukon golds, garlicky greens, roasted carrots, fried Brussels sprouts, and more.
Now, I’m one of the masses who is used to ye olde reliable five buck Costco rotisserie chicken, but I’m telling you now: don’t write off Rotigo because of the higher price point. It’s easily the most flavorful and succulent rotisserie chicken I’ve ever eaten, and has maybe even earned a spot in my top 10 most favorite chicken dishes.
Aside from being served as-is, the chicken is also utilized elsewhere on the menu, in salads and sandwiched between ciabatta buns or gluten-free hoagies. “The idea is to have cross pollination on the menu…we use all the chicken carcasses for stock to make chicken soup. Nothing gets wasted,” said Hughes. Being conscientious of waste is a core value that is practiced across other facets of the business—selling a high volume of to-go food means a lot of packaging, but Rotigo offsets some of that by using compostable materials and corn plastic.
The restaurant was also able to repurpose a lot of fixtures from former tenant Hem 23. “It’s not about being cheap, it’s just like… why do we have to throw this stuff away?” Hughes points out. “When we come into a space that has good bones and all these raw materials… how can we creatively use this stuff again?”
Hughes’ interpretation of the space includes very intentional, sectioned off areas to suit the needs of different customers. “I really want it to be transporting, in the sense where when you come here you feel like ‘Oh, I’m in a different place. I’ve hopped off of 23rd Ave and I’m in a little bit of Europe,’” said Hughes.
There’s a small but comfy lounge area for patrons to relax with some drinks and snacks, a chic bar where you can explore different vermouths and fortified wines, a few cozy booths for diners to enjoy a full meal, and a spacious ordering counter. My favorite feature by far is the farmhouse handwashing station, which is doubly useful a) during COVID b) after you’ve torn apart a chicken with your hands. Even prior to the pandemic, Hughes was inspired to include a handwashing station after seeing one at a California restaurant because she didn’t want folks to have to wait in line for the bathroom if they simply wanted to wash their hands. WASH YOUR DAMN HANDS, PEOPLE!
Walking in, folks are greeted by a market section stocked with picnic and pantry items. The market shelves are laden with high quality and reputable imported goods that Hughes says will be tasty right out of the bag/jar/box or that you can throw together for a quick dinner. There’s also a refrigerated section with specialty meats and cheeses, and plenty of wine.
Hughes is a sommelier by trade, so you can trust that she’s curated a thoughtful wine selection. There’s six main categories to help break things down: reds, whites, sparkling, skin contact, fortified + sweet, and vermouth + amaro hailing primarily from Western Europe (there’s also some West Coast wines for good measure). “My opinion, and I think it’s beyond opinion, it’s a fact that you’ll get a lot of value for your money out of wines from Europe,” said Hughes. The common themes among her picks are wines that are grown responsibly and meant to be enjoyed with food.
Rotigo will start its cocktail service next month, going hyperlocal (like, literally in the same neighborhood) with spirits from Aria and Freeland to contrast the internationally focused wine program and support local distillers.
Rotigo, 1514 NW 23rd, (503) 477-9533, rotigopdx.com