WASHINGTON — Rob Sonderman is a heavy-hitter in the D.C. food scene. He's the chef behind the beloved District barbecue joint Federalist Pig. Since its opening, Federalist Pig has built a reputation as having some of the best barbecue in D.C., earning the Michelin Guide's Bib Gourmand designation three times.
Now, Sonderman has brought his culinary creativity to a relatively crowded field of fried chicken with Honeymoon Chicken. The Petworth opened early this year. The restaurant has a retro vibe, with about 60 seats inside, a bar, and an outdoor patio space.
The idea to venture into fried chicken came from a conversation between Sonderman and his Federalist Pig restaurant partner, Steve Salis.
"He's a constant innovator someone who wants to challenge the status quo," Sonderman said of Salis. "Really, we just got tired of seeing Popeye's at the top of the list of best fried chicken places, and thought we had an opportunity to challenge their position on the throne."
Salis and Sonderman threw themselves into the idea of dethroning Popeye's with a menu that highlights comfort food prepared simply, with a little bit of a twist thanks to the hot honey that permeates the restaurant's menu.
"It was a lot of hard work, a lot of recipe testing, a lot of equipment testing. We settled on this Hennypenny pressure fryer, which KFC kind of invented the technology for, and it's been getting more developed and better over the course of the year," Sonderman said.
That hard work has paid off. Honey Moon Chicken was awarded its own Bib Gourmand designation in this year's Michelin Guide.
The menu is focused, paying close attention to the bird, with a few beloved side dishes and some unique offerings. The hot honey cauliflower is dipped in hot honey and served with crispy garlic, pickled fresno peppers, goat cheese and herbs. Brussel spouts are also doused in hot honey for serving.
The chicken itself is brined for 24-hours and served either honey dusted or dipped in hot honey.
Sonderman says the hot honey is what sets Honeymoon apart.
"The hot honey is kind of the big differentiator. Nashville Hot chicken was kind of the next wave of fried chicken, and we didn't want to jump on that boat," Sonderman said.
The chef says fans of his food at Federalist Pig will recognize his fingerprints at Honeymoon.
"I think fans of Federalist Pig can sort of tell my DNA in a lot of the recipes here," Sonderman said. "I always like to have a good balance of acid, heat, a little sweet, a little savory. I think the chicken speaks to that. I think items like the hot honey cauliflower speak to that."
Sonderman said his team is cognizant of using fresh ingredients and making as much as they can in-house every day.
"I think the only thing that we're not making every day in-house is our bread, that we get from a local bakery, and the wedge fries," he said. "Other than that, we're prepping everything from scratch every day. All the sauces, marinating the chicken -- everything from top to bottom on the menu."
Located at on Georgia Avenue in Petworth, Honeymoon Chicken joins four other Bib Gourmand restaurants in the neighborhood, including Timber Pizza Co., Menya Hosaki, Hitching Post, and Taqueria Habanero.
"I've always enjoyed this neighborhood. The owners of Timber Pizza, I've been good buddies with since my high school days," Sonderman said. I love this little block here and I think they started this sort of resurgence of good restaurants being on this block. It's awesome to be able to bring a little resurgence here, and offer some great food to the community."
Honeymoon Chicken is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.