Nelly’s wins the possibly imaginary battle of Dayton’s best rotisserie chicken
In the time I’ve lived and worked south of town, I’ve probably passed by Nelly’s Chicken around 3,000 times. It’s perched right at the corner of state Route 725 and Alexandersville Road in Miamisburg, nestled into what I imagine isn’t a very bustling shopping center otherwise. I had always made the assumption that it was a fried chicken joint, as many people probably have. I’m not sure how long their sign has actually noted “Rotisserie Chicken and Bolivian Food,” but I never caught it until someone else mentioned how great their food is. In hindsight, I’m shocked that only one family had ever mentioned this to us. You probably won’t be surprised that when people find out that I review restaurants, they say things like “Oh man, have you tried Cheesecake Factory?!” No – just, no. I don’t think I have to explain to you, dear eaters, why I simply walk away from people who say things like that.
Nelly’s is a deli-style set-up, where you order at the counter and they bring the food out to your table. The owner was running the show that night and took our order, and kept us laughing the entire time with quips about running out of food because we were ordering so much. We had been told that the place was on the shabbier side of shabby-chic with a few booths and was mostly intended for carry-out. When we got there, I assumed I’d either been told wrong or he’d recently renovated. Turns out it was the latter, based on the compliments he received from a few regulars about how great the new dining room looked. It’s been freshly painted a warm, rusty orange with newer tables and chairs and decorative pieces strewn throughout.
We ordered the salpicon (tortilla bowl shell with melted cheese and black beans on the bottom, topped with their rotisserie chicken and veggies), silpancho (breaded beef cutlet served over rice and French fries, topped with an over-medium fried egg and pico), a chicken relleno (ball of mashed potatoes stuffed with chicken, lightly breaded and fried), as well as a quarter of a rotisserie chicken. If you’re wondering what to expect from Bolivian or Peruvian food, most of Nelly’s menu is a bit of a mash-up of Puerto Rican and Mexican. In other words, for people who can be nervous Nellies (rimshot!) about trying new ethnic food varieties, this is a very safe bet. Nothing too spicy, and there’s nothing left to “acquired tastes,” so to speak. The first three items were exactly as described and surprisingly flavorful for what could be considered basic ingredients. The rotisserie chicken, however, is like nothing you’ve ever tasted before and will leave you puzzled. What is the delicious concoction that’s been rubbed under the perfectly fire-crisped skin? Is it cumin? Some kind of garlic and chile mixture? I fancy myself as having a perceptive palate, but simply couldn’t place these flavors. After some very intense Googling, my palate breathed a sigh of relief, as I had never heard of most of the items before. The secret, mouth-watering rub consists of black mint paste, a Peruvian chili pepper called aji amarillo and ground annatto seeds – along with rub standards we know and love in the states, like beer, garlic, ginger and black peppercorns. Nelly’s boasts being “the best rotisserie chicken in Dayton.” I’m not sure how many other eateries are competing for this title, but I can tell you that they have their work cut out for them if they hope to surpass this perfectly seasoned bird. The owner came over to make sure that we were enjoying all of our food and we complimented it again and again. Then he told me I’d have to wash dishes before we left. I absolutely adored the guy and his mischievous sense of humor. He rightfully takes pride in what he and his family have built in the little corner of that shopping plaza.
With deli-style set-up, the topic of service is usually moot. You’re still a paying customer, though, and bad customer interaction – I’m looking at you, Smashburger – can sour me on an establishment no matter how it’s designed. What little we had, in this case, was perfectly pleasant – and a much-needed laugh at the end of a long day. It’s nice to see some people still have their sense of humor. The price points, too, are spot on. I think if he charged any more per dinner, some folks would turn their noses up at first try – but he’s also not charging so little that you feel like you’re ripping him off. We ordered two entrés, a side item, a quarter of a chicken and two soft drinks and our tally was around $28. Considering we couldn’t finish all of it, you could have easily fed three people for the same price.
In hindsight, my only disappointment is that I forgot to order both the plantains and tostones. Looks like I’ll just have to make a return trip. Maybe I’ll take that trip alone so I don’t have to share with anyone. They do have a great looking lunch menu in which most of their dinner items are converted into sandwiches. That magical chicken cuddled up in a roll and a side of tostones sounds like a perfect way to spend an hour of my work day.
Nelly’s Chicken is located at 37 Alexandersville Road in Miamisburg. For more information, call 937.859.5555 or visit nellyschicken.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Brandy King at BrandyKing@daytoncitypaper.com and visit her blog, foodvsface.com. Caricature by Jay King.