It’s a cold and rainy day in April. I am watching the rain come down in buckets and I’m dreaming of Planet Chicken. Unfortunately I can’t go there for lunch ; the wife doesn’t feel like venturing out and I don’t feel like going alone. All I can do is dream…
Planet Chicken is a Peruvian joint in nearby Dunellen that makes some of the best roast chicken around. It is not a fancy place but the staff is friendly and welcoming and makes you feel right at home. You step from the tiny vestibule directly into the dining room which seats about 30 people. The tables and chairs are functional rather than decorative but they are comfortable.In the back and to the left is the kitchen with the rotisserie cabinets ranged against the wall . Along the righthand wall is a row of chairs where customers wait for their take-out orders to be filled.
In addition to the superb roast chicken,the Planet Chicken menu also features beef dishes, seviche and Peruvian- Chinese dishes. The unquestioned star , however, is chicken and what fine chicken it is.On one visit,we were seated at a table that gave us a good view of the rotisserie. The chickens were spitted , six in a row, six rows per cabinet and there were three such cabinets– 108 chickens in all. They took about 40-45 minutes to reach perfection and as we sat at our table we watched them turn from a pale ivory to a luscious golden brown.As they rotated on their spits the juice ran down in rivulets, moistening the chickens in the row beneath. Naturally, you want to know what happens to the chickens in the top row… how do they remain moist ? I don’t know. All I can tell you is that , every time we’ve been to Planet Chicken, our chicken has been A – Number One. Expertly quartered, the chicken arrives at your table blistering hot and you attack it at once, heedless of burnt fingertips. The skin is mildly spiced and moist, not papery : the flesh underneath firm but juicy. I wish I could tell you about the combination of spices used for the chicken. Every time I go there I promise myself that I’m going to determine what exactly it is that gives the chicken its taste. Unfortunately, each time my critical faculties go on the blink and I concentrate on gobbling it up. Accompanying the dish is a mild,pale green sauce,creamy and unctuous, a perfect foil for the chicken. Available Side dishes include thick cut French Fries, yucca ( boiled or fried; I prefer the fried) , platanos or plantains ( sweet or savory; try the former) and salads . The beef dishes and the seviche are passable but I usually stick to the chicken. For drinks , there is the usual array of soft drinks as well as Inka Cola ( reminds me of cream soda). If you are feeling adventurous, you can try some of the alternative Peruvian concoctions which are tasty if a little strange. The desserts are uninspired and too heavy for my taste. Usually, for a party of four, we order two chickens.,fried yucca, sweet plantains and a salad.
Peru has a large Chinese population and thus Chinese dishes have become a part of the mainstream cuisine in Peru. The best fried rice I’ve ever eaten was at Jose Antonio’s, a Peruvian eatery in Los Angeles. The fried rice at Planet Chicken is not quite that good but it is worth trying.
Planet Chicken is easy on the wallet. A whole chicken is under $10 and two people can get a full meal for under $20. Give it a try.
Planet Chicken: 107 N. Washington Avenue, Dunellen, N.J 08812. Closed Tuesdays.( 732) 424-3424.