Chef Jim Noble simply had to name it Rooster’s. After all, the wall in the main dining room is covered with stuffed roosters… with a couple of pheasants thrown in for good measure.
OK, maybe the name came first. In any event, this is definitely one dining establishment worth crowing about. The eclectic menu of this always-busy eatery is as unique as the layout itself.
The centerpiece is the open kitchen; as observable as it gets. Everything is made from scratch and prepared right before your eyes. Especially if you sit in one of the bar stools along the perimeter on either side of the cooking area. You get to see how every dish comes together.
To the right of the kitchen is the bar and cocktail area, along with long bar-height tables to accommodate one, a couple or 10. This design allows for a large number of people to be seated in a smaller space without feeling crowded, even as the place fills up, which is a daily occurrence.
To the other side of the kitchen is the main dining room with the wall of roosters (and pheasants). Booths and tables, very comfortable, can accommodate the reservations. At lunch and dinner, the dining room is full – every day. And that’s why there are tables in the atrium area just beyond the main dining room. Walk across the atrium and you’re in the second dining room, kind of a rectangle, with its own bar; perfect for a smaller semi-private party.
The first time I enjoyed Rooster’s was for lunch. It was about 11:45 a.m. and thanks to the tall tables I was able to sit immediately and watch for my guest. I was instantly greeted warmly and professionally by a server, with a “welcome to Rooster’s;” he introduced himself by name and informed me that he would be taking care of us. I am always appreciative when I hear this salutation, or any variation; it never gets tiring. I said my guest would be here shortly, and he said, most sincerely, that was fine, no hurry.
I decided to try the Rooster’s Chicken Salad. It arrived on multi-grain bread and a very large side of fries. The chicken salad was excellent. Freshly roasted chicken meat was 90 percent of the ingredients, with just enough accoutrements to bind it slightly. This is one of the best chicken salad sandwiches I have tasted. And it was massive; I could have saved half, but it was so good I ate the whole thing. Other lunch sandwich selections include grilled chicken with pancetta and provolone; spit-roasted bbq pork with slaw; and Karen’s grilled pimento cheese.
Lunch entrees are tantalizing, as in the open-faced meatloaf with shiitake, cream and haricot verts. And for the liver aficionado, you can indulge in fried chicken livers with a seared Anson Mills polenta cake. Of course there are plenty of salad choices as well. The entrée salads offer more interesting options; one offers scallops, arugula, pea shoots, avocado and corn with a buttermilk lime dressing. How about a fried oyster salad, with mesclun greens, bacon and balsamic dressing? Yours for the asking.
Sharing the lunch and dinner menu are the wood-fired pizzas. Simplistic and delicious, a theme of the menus is exemplified with the pies. Each of the following is a separate pizza – wild mushrooms; roasted chicken; mozzarella and tomato; house pepperoni; or salami and cheese. A thin, tasty crust, premium toppings and all infused with a wonderful smokiness. I enjoyed the mushroom pie one evening as part of dinner; you find that many of the selections are small plates, either for sharing or building a meal.
My second visit was a weekday evening, around 6:30 p.m. The majority of tables were full. The reservation for my party was honored right on time. Unfortunately, my guests got tied up in traffic and were quite a bit late. Again, the gentleman serving my table was polite, professional and understanding. He went out of his way to make sure I understood it was not a concern. The diverse dinner menu is defined by 15 categories, like antipasti, cured, cheeses, spit-fire roasted, and pastas, among others. That evening I enjoyed tasting several items, and each one was very good.
I highly recommend the onion soup; which leads me to remind you that the menu is modest; meaning it doesn’t boast about each selection with artsy phraseology. The servers are extremely knowledgeable regarding the menu, including the extensive wine list. It is actually a scrumptious traditional rendition of French onion soup. It arrives piping hot with perfectly melted cheese. The broth itself is exquisite, with deep, rich flavor from the stock they make.
What a great number of selections for sharing. Take the bresaola. I did and truly enjoyed it with a friend one evening, a perfect accompaniment to one of the numerous craft beers that are offered. The bresaola, or Italian air-cured Italian beef, is a delicious example of tasty charcuterie. House-cured salmon or duck are other options, along with chicken liver mousse.
The menu is very seasonal, changing with the availability of fresh, locally grown and raised premium quality products. Hopefully the menu maintains the spit-fire roasted selections. Each one tender and juicy, with a superb flavor profile; a half or quarter natural chicken, a quarter or half BBQ chicken, Carolina BBQ pork shoulder and Rooster’s smoked wings are yummy options. I highly recommend the beef short rib; deep rich slow-cooked flavor, tender and succulent says it all. You can also go for any of the grilled meat considerations, from a hanger steak or New York strip to duck breast or a steak burger. I had the burger, and though the menu doesn’t state it, the server will tell you that it comes with fries; the burger was a very tasty decision.
If you’re into pasta, there’s mac and cheese; gnocchi with pesto, tomato confit and ricotta; and spaghetti with tomato sauce, basil and parmigiana for the asking. Grilled and seared fish also are available in the form of salmon, shrimp or sea scallops. From the garden offerings are the freshest available veggies, locally grown. Pan-fried corn, fried onion rings, fire-roasted beets, or margaux’s succotash is ready to accompany your main dish or just by itself.
It’s easy to understand why the bar area stays busy, with its own long slender tables for standing away from the bar and still being able to sit and enjoy a bite along with that adult beverage. The wine list is extensive, with at least 30 by the glass and more than 100 by the bottle. If beer is your preference, check out a bottle of ‘big boss bad penny brown’ or ‘mother earth dark cloud dunkel;’ just a couple of the several local Carolina craft beers. Additionally, you can quench that thirst with a micro-brew, as in the ‘terrapin moo-hoo milk stout’ or maybe a cold ‘victory seasonal Yakima glory ale.’
Rooster’s is a dining experience that a great number of folks have come to love. The atmosphere is casual and allows for a three-piece suit as comfortably as your favorite jeans. The staff and servers are as friendly and courteous as it gets. The servers have what I would refer to as a pleasing crispness to them; they are always on their game with every interaction with the guest. Consciously or unconsciously, diners are drawn to that level of professionalism. Ask a server for a wine or beer recommendation; once they know your preferences, they are quick to suggest and if it’s wine, to have you taste. I have been delightfully appreciative each time I have tried something new.
So successful is Rooster’s that a second one recently opened Uptown. A pleasing look, tremendous service and dynamite food; I have just one recommendation. As comfortable as the booths and tables are, the bar stools around the open kitchen and in the tall table area are simply not comfortable. Yes, they are contoured; however they are still hard-wood seats without backs. To sit there after about 30 minutes can become uncomfortable. I know they are not looking to rush folks in and out. So consider changing out the utilitarian bar stools for something more comfortable. Otherwise, please don’t change a thing.
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Rooster’s Wood Fired Kitchen
3.5 of four stars
6801 Morrison Blvd.
Hours: Open daily at 11:30 a.m.
Details: Patio dining, curbside delivery