Editor's note: This is food writer Devin Healey's review of the new restaurant Roosterspin.
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Game of Thrones' Westeros may have the War of the Five Kings, but New Brunswick has the War of the Five Wings. With the opening of Roosterspin on the corner of Albany and Spring streets, and the imminent opening of the Rick Ross-approved Wingstop right around the corner, it looks like Bonchon, Popeye's, Roosterspin, Wingstop, and Wings Over Rutgers will be duking it out over chicken wing supremacy. But Roosterspin may have already come out on top.
When I walked into Roosterspin during July’s soft opening, I immediately felt underdressed (and I hate feeling underdressed). Due to a slight PR-related snafu, I found myself at a gathering of friends and family instead of the press event, and the vibe was definitely more chic than I had expected. A DJ was spinning laid-back jams, well dressed bartenders were slinging Jersey-fied cocktails, glasses clinked, pictures were being snapped. Roosterspin’s opening night was emblematic of the direction New Brunswick’s culinary scene is headed.
Tempura Cheese Curds consist of fried cheese curds in tempura beer batter and jalapeño dipping sauce. Credit: Devin Healey
Roosterspin is the creation of Mihae Cho, who opened the wildly successful Westfield location in 2006. For her second location, Cho teamed up with renowned New York City mixologists Pam Wiznitzer (Dead Rabbit NYC, Seamstress NY) and Luis Hernandez (Seamstress NY) to develop their cocktail program. Although I was only able to sample a few of the menu’s boozy offerings during the soft opening, it seems like Roosterspin will be a welcome addition to the city’s upscale bar scene. Since they were unable to make any of my favorite classic cocktails (which I typically use as a measuring stick), I returned and ordered both an old fashioned and Sazerac later that week. Needless to say, the bar program at Roosterspin gets this cocktail connoisseur’s stamp of approval.
As my girlfriend and I chose a seat next to a wall of vinyl records (all of which were meticulously sourced and purchased by Cho herself via eBay and local record stores) in the “whimsical, retro” style dining room, we perused what appeared to be much more than just fried chicken. An extensive list of Korean staples like bibimbap, mandoo, pajeon, bulgogi, and pork belly ssam all greeted us as we looked over the offerings. Much to our dismay, we were not able to order from the full menu, but instead servers brought us out amuse bouche-sized versions of several dishes that included Tempura Cheese Curds with jalapeño dipping sauce, their take on a corn dog (a boardwalk favorite of mine), Crispy Mandoo, Chicken Gizzard, Pork Belly Ssam, and, course, their famous Roosterspin Always Double Fried Chicken, in both mild and spicy.
On the Cobb features grilled corn, cotija cheese and paprika pepper. Credit: Devin Healey
I stopped by on a second occasion and tried both the Bulgogi Steamed Buns and Corn on the Cobb. Although I had been meaning to sample the delectable-sounding Soft Shell Crab Steamed Buns, I have been unable to by the time I’m writing this. However, I’ve been assured by many people that they are as enlightened as expected.
Of the hors d'oeuvres-sized plates brought around to us, my favorites were the tempura-fried corn dog, crispy mandoo, and, without a doubt, the fried chicken. Despite their tempura batter, the cheese curds seemed familiar, almost like something you’d find on a dozen other menus nowadays. The pork belly ssam was dry and unappetizing, and the chicken gizzards, despite being one of the samplings I was looking forward to the most, were extremely chewy. I should add a disclaimer in that all of these dishes were served in a much different style than they would be presented on any normal night, and also that what you will be presented with will look and possibly taste different than what I experienced. That being said, I’ve now had their double-fried chicken on several occasions and the hype is definitely real.
Records. Records everywhere. Credit: Devin Healey
Opening weeks are never free of hiccups, regardless of whether it’s on the food and drink or service side, but with the track record Roosterspin has already established with their incredibly successful Westfield location, I have a feeling any kinks will be ironed out shortly and New Brunswick’s newest restaurant will be a welcome addition to the Hub City’s diverse and upscale dining scene.
As the War of the Five Wings heats up, I have a hunch that Roosterspin’s more refined take on Korean and more specifically Korean fried chicken, will be the death knell for George Street’s Bonchon Korean Fried Chicken, which has stumbled out of the gate and still lacks the liquor license they promised earlier this year. I should also mention that Roosterspin boasts two full-service karaoke rooms, which are available to rent on any and all nights.
Roosterspin: Take your rightful place on the Iron Throne, because it’s time to crown the king of New Brunswick wings.