News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Nashville comes to Sisters at chicken cart

When Jonathan and Autumn Gooden moved to Sisters last year, they brought more than their two daughters and their earthly possessions. They carried with them their dream – Wonderland Chicken Co., a food truck opening its windows this week at Eurosports Food Court Garden.

The truck, a trailer actually, was built from the ground up by Jonathan who has worked construction. He has also been a sous chef at a well-regarded Hilton Hotel in the east. The Goodens consider themselves “foodies,” the good kind, Jonathan says. Their focus is on taste and flavor, not just freshness and wholesomeness.

The signature offering will be a hot Nashville-style fried chicken sandwich. Hot as in right out of the fryer hot and heat from a hefty dose of spice, courtesy of hot sauce and cayenne in the coating, as well as a spicy sauce drizzled over the top.

The dish is said to have originated at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville, though many restaurants in the city (and beyond) have adopted their own takes on the recipe. Some hot chicken joints sell milder versions of this dish, as well as blazing-hot versions to suit culinary daredevils. The dish is so popular in Nashville, indeed all of Tennessee, that former Nashville mayor Bill Purcell (a Prince’s regular) started the Music City Hot Chicken Festival.

The Gooden recipe was finally deemed worthy after months of experimentation. More than a dozen variations were tried and while 10 different heats were considered, they settled on five.

“I will discourage more than a ‘three’ heat for any first-time customer,” Gooden says. “With five you are in fire territory, way beyond the most diehard of palates.”

From start to finish, preparation, beginning at home and ending in the trailer, is a 30-hour process. Gooden stresses this is not fast or ready-made food. Every customer gets a cooked-to-order dish taking eight minutes. Success will of course increase the wait time; time well spent, Jonathan feels, and consistent with the other offerings at the popular food court.

The sandwich, with six to eight ounces of fresh, skinless chicken thighs, is served on a toasted potato bun with one side for $13. Additional sides are $2 ($4 a la carte). Gooden says that they spent almost as much time developing what they imagine will be the top side choice – mac n’ cheese.

To listen to Jonathan talk about perfecting mac n’ cheese is akin to hearing a musician talking about a composition.

“Ours will be like nothing typically served in Sisters,” he believes, adding: “More al dente, not pasty or what you’d get out of a box.”

Other sides on the Wonderland menu include fries, potato salad, and slaw, the latter two also completely homemade after many recipe attempts in pursuit of finding just the right one. Future offerings will feature Korean- and Thai-style fried chicken. It’s the Thai version that gets Jonathan the most excited as he is anxious to introduce his yellow curry made with 37 ingredients.

So, why the name, Wonderland Chicken Co.? Turns out one of Jonathan’s grandmothers, dear to the family, was named Alice, as is the Gooden’s elder daughter. The name path was a family undertaking indicating a bit of whimsy and projecting the good vibes they hope you experience when first biting into the sandwich or the tenders, the other entrée appearing on the menu.

The Goodens hope to add a second truck down the road, built on barbecue.


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