There are few things that make my heart go pitter-patter (or flatline, for that matter), than soul food. Sure, I may be a slightly suburban, soft-around-the-edges white boy, but there is something deeply comforting and entirely satisfying about soul food. I wouldn't be so naïve to say that I understand it, because I think that would be presumptuous. But I do think I "get" it, on a basic level. Every culture has its own brand of comfort food: I recall all of the German and Polish dishes served in my childhood, the cabbage rolls, stuffed peppers, rouladen, dumplings, and every manner of pickled vegetables from the garden.
Which is why I hold Southern soul food so dear: it brings back so many memories by proxy.
While in L.A. on Monday, Kevin and I made a stop at the famous Roscoe's House of Chicken N Waffles in Hollywood. Much to our dismay, there was quite a line outside, and parking was at a premium. We ended up parking at a meter-less spot about two blocks up, right outside of a weed dispensary (what better way to set the mood for fried chicken?).
When we approached the door, Kevin was quick to bring me up to speed with Roscoe's entrance etiquette: the door is roped off for a reason. Inform the bouncer how many are in your party, gracefully thank him, then move the hell out of the way and wait for him to call your name. We did just that, and about two minutes later, he returned, a harried look on his face, and said to Kevin, "Two? Quick, get in here, go to that table..."
I'm not sure how we got that table or why (perhaps they recognized me and wanted a favorable review? Shush... it could happen!), but we were in long before the surly crowd gathered on the sidewalk.
The inside of Roscoe's is how I imagine a lot of fried chicken restaurants looked... in the 70's. Rough-hewn wood panelling, careworn wood tables, lots of mirrors, and pink-tint floodlights in cans on the ceiling. Inside it was loud, big groups and families gathered around mounds of fried bird and cornbread. Signed pictures of celebrities bedecked the walls, and Kevin leaned over to me, "Supposedly this is Snoop Dogg's favorite place to eat..." Well, if it's good enough for Snoop Dogg, it's gotta be good for us!
Our friendly waitress took our drink order, then our food order, and was kind enough to bring two plates for us to share. It would be easy enough to order just one item off the menu and have that be your dinner, but Kevin had the right idea... get a whole boat load of Southern Fried Goodness, and spread the wealth around the table.
We ordered an Herb's special (half a chicken in gravy and onions,
and two waffles):
A Big Mamma's Special (potatoes with gravy and onions, scrambled eggs with onion and cheese,
and a buttermilk biscuit)
as well as a side of Mac & Cheese:
This is obviously a lot of food to wade through, so bear with me as I try my best to explain what happened when the lot of it hit the table.
I immediately got to spreading the butter and maple syrup across my waffle; while at the same time grabbing a forkful of Mac & Cheese. And that's when it happened.
"Isn't this amazi..." Kevin started, but I quickly put my index finger to my lips, "Shhh... no one say anything trivial for the next few moments... I am having a significant experience..."
The Mac & Cheese was immense. Thick, creamy, cheesy, garlicky, and peppery all at once. The cheese sauce, clearly starting life as a béchamel, had a wonderful weightiness to it, with the same sort of cohesiveness that only comes with cooking twice: once in the pot, once in the oven.
The waffle was equally divine, crispy on the outside, pillowy soft on the inside, with a hint of cinnamon. The butter and syrup soaked in quite well, and were all the better when mixed with the rich gravy over the chicken.
But wait... there was chicken! Heavenly, crispy, smothered, juicy chicken! Quite possibly one of the best fried chickens I've ever had, period. Despite bathing in a heavy curtain of gravy, the skin of the chicken was delightfully crisp, but strangely chewy at the same time. The chicken was well seasoned, but never overly salty or sickly peppery. Combined with the sweet waffle, and the onion gravy, well... words really can't express. This is one of those flavor combinations that truly has to be experienced to be understood. Why does sweet, savory, and salty come together so well here? Well, I think it's the same reason why ketchup is so popular: mix together enough sensations, our brain just goes three-mile-island.
The eggs were pleasantly fluffy, with enough cheese and onions to make them more special than just regular scrambled. The potatoes followed suit, cooked perfectly and swimming in that same wonderful gravy.
Our singular biscuit was nearly orgasmic when slathered in whipped butter and honey: I honestly got a little dizzy for a few seconds. Or maybe that was the angina kicking in. Who knows.
It was shocking how quickly the food disappeared from the table, and I was a bit proud in my ability to fell such a mighty feast. I completely understand the reputation Roscoe's has culled, and am happy to add to it: any trip to Hollywood could never be complete without a stop for lunch or dinner. I know my mouth will be watering until I return, perhaps as a California resident instead of a California visitor, and get my chicken and waffles fix.
THIS is what I imagined a soul-food eatery to be: hectic, close quarters, lots of folks enjoying themselves and each others' company. It was nothing like a Tyler Perry movie.
Certainly not a cheap date, but you get what you pay for.
Our waitress was top-notch, and our food came before I had a second thought about what we ordered.
The Food: A+
I don't think anything I had at Roscoe's qualifies as the best xyz I've every had, but everything certainly makes the list... the magic is the combination. The chicken by itself is wonderful, the chicken with gravy, waffles, mac and cheese... well, that's what gives this a gold star.
Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles
1514 N Gower St.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Menu, locations, and more available on their website. Be advised, it is flash heavy, and features a soundtrack, so it is probably NSFW.