By David Minsky
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Most begin and live their brief existence in mammoth farm-factories under conditions so dire they make the black hole of Calcutta appear merely gray. Then it's off to the poultry processing plants, Dante's seventh circle of finger-lickin'-good hell, where they're killed and plucked and gutted and packaged in antiseptic plastic and styrofoam containers, denying to shoppers in nice, clean, antiseptic supermarkets the reality of their purchase.
But the indignities don't stop there.
The hapless bird then winds up in the clutches of corporate, incompetent, or just downright lazy cooks. Colonel Bucket coats it with a "secret" blend of herbs and spices and fries up zillions of chickens, churning out barely edible widgets for grease-loving teenagers everywhere. Soulless food conglomerates chop the bird, mix it with nasty bits and chemicals, reconstitute it, and form it into tasteless rolls that resemble Paul Bunyan's schlong. And then there are the culinary amateurs, serial abusers who bake it into poultry-flavored dust, or dredge it in crushed potato chips, or smother it in cream of mushroom soup.
To put it bluntly, the chicken takes a lot of crap.
Not at La Granja. This small, locally owned chain of Peruvian-style fast food eateries gives the poor, abused chicken the respect and careful cooking it deserves. Walk into the stark, brightly lit outlet in one of Kendall's depressingly ubiquitous strip malls and you'll see a couple dozen birds slowly roasting on the rotisserie, turning every so often until their skin takes on the color of burnished bronze, and their lusty aroma permeates the room.
These aren't the sad, pathetic creatures on sale at your local grocery store, whose skin has the texture of wet rubber. La Granja's birds have real taste and texture, their meat tender and flavorful, their skin crisp and almost devoid of fat. (It even crisps up nicely when reheated in an oven the next day. Hallelujah!)
If that's not enough, La Granja provides a palate-tingling assortment of salsas to goose your bird (so to speak) into another dimension. An extensive salsa bar offers tangy red and white onion salsas, vinegary yellow huancaina with a pronounced chili bite, two tart-spicy green salsas, and a thin, lime-tinged crema. Mix and match to your taste buds' content. Add in too your choice of two sides with your entree: soupy but savory black beans, rice, yuca, or passable French fries. For a couple bucks more, throw in greasy, but good, fried plaintains.
La Granja does more than just an admirable roasted chicken, though. There's grilled steak and pork, available in half- and full-pound portions, sliced thin, quickly grilled, and served with the same utter lack of handjobbery as the bird. The former is more moist and tender than the latter, but both are tasty, filling, and take well to supercharging with one or more of those excellent salsas. Or try bistec encebollado, the same thin-cut steak buried under a mound of sautéed tomatoes and onions.
Whatever you order, you may want to get it to go. Like most fast food establishments, La Granja is not a place to linger over a meal. The decor is spartan, there's no beer or wine, and the pair of wall-mounted TVs can be blaring the overamped stylings of some overwrought Latin pop singer (proving that mass-produced music, like mass-produced food, can give you a terrible case of indigestion).
If you want to finish with something sweet, flan is more lumpy than smooth, acceptable for a sugar fix but nothing more. On the other hand, no chickens were abused in the making of your meal. Thanks to La Granja for that.
3822 SW 56th St, Miami; 305-383-5055. Open Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday noon to 11 p.m., Sunday noon to 9 p.m.