I come to praise Dizzy Birds Rotisserie, not to bury it.

But … things are a bit more complicated than that.

When the fast-casual, spit-roasted meat specialist opened this March, it took over not one but two scruffy retail storefronts on Main Street in Biddeford, cleaving the two together to form a vibrant, big-boned bi-level space that feels jubilant and organic – as though it were always a single unit.

“One side was a bakery that was known for their doughnuts,” said Tom Peacock, the co-owner and executive chef. “The other side used to be a tattoo studio. It was a wreck with light bulbs hanging from the ceiling from electrical cords. We brought the entire thing back to exposed rafters and built it back up from there.”

Peacock is no stranger to working with contractors; his experience building and running institutional food-service kitchens for clients like Harvard Law School and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston sped the cold-weather project and allowed him to get exactly what he wanted from the space.

In particular, he got an open “exhibition-style” kitchen where his team – including his son Connor, the sous-chef, as well as his nephew, Kevin Moran, the chef de cuisine – chop, stir and plate the restaurant’s mostly scratch-made take on comfort-food classics.

The family connections don’t end there. Tom’s wife, Barb Peacock, runs marketing and is the restaurant’s pastry chef, and their son Cameron Peacock acts as front-of-house manager.

Even the inspiration for Dizzy Bird’s homey menu is refracted through the lens of family. “We watched a lot of celebrity chef programs on Netflix,” Tom Peacock said. “When chefs would be asked what they would want their last meal to be, a lot of them mentioned their grandmother’s roast chicken. It’s food we like to eat and that most of us grew up on. So that’s the idea.”

But Grandma might do a double-take if she caught a glimpse of the technology Dizzy Birds uses to marinate its chicken. Rather than leave the Quebec-sourced, free-range birds to soak overnight in a briny bath of coriander, pepper and garlic, Moran pulls a strong negative pressure in a vacuum tumbler and forces the seasoning deep inside the birds in just 20 minutes.

Birds are roasting at Dizzy Birds Rotisserie in Biddeford. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Then comes the dizzy part: The kitchen dusts the birds again inside and out with a salt-free version of the brine seasoning, then rotates them over an open flame slowly enough to recapture their own weeping fat. It doesn’t take long before the self-basting birds spin burnished and brown.

Whether served as a leg-and-thigh combo with a duo of sides ($9.75) or torn from the bone and heaped in a glossy dune of light-and-dark meat on a Little Spruce Baking Co. brioche bun ($9.75), these are, without any doubt, some of the juiciest, most savory chickens I have eaten in New England.

The roast beef – which I tried on fresh focaccia (also from Little Spruce) spread with a thick spread of herbed horseradish goat cheese and sweet caramelized onions ($11.75) – is just as remarkable. Tender, with a blushing center strip that signals how precisely the stocky top round has been roasted, this is meat that could be used to seduce even the most ardent vegetarian.

Grilled tofu and kale sandwich with cilantro and pickled onion. Though Dizzy Birds specializes in roast chicken, even the vegetarian options are sensational. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Which is not to say that Dizzy Birds scorns herbivorous patrons. The cilantro, brown sugar and chipotle-seasoned Grilled Southwest Tofu sandwich ($9.75) is a pretty fantastic option, regardless of your dietary inclination. It succeeds partly because Moran zigs where most chefs would zag: Rather than treat blocks of extra-firm tofu like largely flavorless cuts of meat, he presses them dry and mashes them (along with a flaxseed binder and torn kale leaves) into a patty that gets grilled hard, then topped with a spicy black bean relish and puckery slivers of pickled red onion.

Similarly, many of his side dishes (offered with all main dishes, as a generous three-side Taster Bowl for $9.75 or a la carte) are vegan, or at least vegetarian. A few are excellent: tangy vegan baked beans, sticky from molasses; still-chunky mashed potatoes infused with caramelized garlic and onion, and served with or without browned-butter veloute gravy; and an eggplant-and-herb-free riff on ratatouille made with garlic-oil-roasted summer squash and zucchini.

Other side dishes struggle against minor but easily correctable execution issues – kale salad that’s soggy from too much of the maple-poppyseed-flavored Greek yogurt dressing, a strange soapy top-note in the impressively al dente macaroni and cheese, and cornbread that requires more protection than the draped tea towel the kitchen uses to keep it from going stale.

So, too, desserts like a pretzel-and-toasted-sunflower-kernel Dizzy Birds cookie ($2.50), which by mid-afternoon when I ordered it, had dried out; or a bizarrely proportioned Malted Half Moon Whoopie Pie ($4.75), weighted down with an excess of cream cheese frosting and not enough of the delightful Momofuku Milk Bar-inspired Ovaltine crumbs. Both remain a few tweaks away from greatness.

It’s easy to imagine Dizzy Birds will get there, especially with Moran in the kitchen. On one recent visit I overheard him chatting dreamily about sea beans and huitlacoche with a Brunswick oyster farmer, and began to suspect what he would later reiterate to me over the phone. Even working within the parameters of a comfort-food menu, he’s passionate about interesting, quality ingredients and intelligent use of technology to help the restaurant showcase them.

“We do think about every part of it. We’re a scratch-made casual carry-out restaurant, and we try to execute everything we do without much or any waste, so we have plans for everything,” he said. “We stay away from anything too stunt-y though. After all, we’re a counter-service place.”

And that’s where things go completely off the rails.

On the basis of its festive setting and top-notch food, Dizzy Birds deserves four stars. But service torpedoes the experience.

Both of my recent visits occurred during off-peak hours, when the dining room was at no more than quarter-capacity –times when the restaurant should have been at its most efficient and capable of handling straightforward orders from a two-person party. All the more so with four back-of-house staff (and one at the register) on one visit and five (plus one at the counter) on another. They are anything but short on workforce.

Yet both times, I waited … and waited. An unacceptable 20 minutes one day, then 29 another. I wasn’t alone: While I was in the dining room, ticket in hand, I noticed other small parties loitering, anticipating their meals. Customers seemed exasperated, not to mention ravenous.

Moran offered some insight. “At a place like a Boston Market, they can have 40 birds cooked at noon and ready until 8. We don’t want to sell a bird that’s been sitting around,” he said. “We spend most of our time analyzing, but anticipating business is super difficult. We’re still learning what our potential patronage is.”

It seems a shame to dissuade anyone from eating in a setting featuring a colorful, surreal cartoon chicken roller-coaster mural, but for the moment ticket times are simply too long. The food at Dizzy Birds is undeniably special but the question is: How long are you willing to wait for it?

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of two 2018 Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association.

Contact him at: [email protected]

Twitter: @AndrewRossME


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