The best combo since Hall and Oates. (Andy Staples)
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – The sign on Sunset Boulevard noted that traffic would snarl even more than usual from 3 p.m. Sunday to 3 a.m. Monday because of a “special event.” Typically, I ignore such signs – I’m a tourist and will be home by Sunday -- but I had to sit in front of this one long enough that I pondered what event might create even more gridlock. Then it hit me. The “special event” in question is the Academy Awards.
I’m sure everyone works up an appetite with all that traffic-stopping, red-carpeting and back-patting. To sate the hunger caused by sitting through The Hunger Games’ bid for the Oscar for Best Costume Design, attendees will move on to lavish after-parties catered by the hottest chefs. Bone marrow shooters and octopus ceviche for all. If I ever get invited to the Oscars – I’m told I look like a Ray Liotta, so I’m holding out for a Goodfellas sequel – I’m skipping the parties and heading to the corner of Sunset and Gower.
Some duos simply add up to far more than the sum of their parts. Tom and Jerry. Peanut butter and jelly. Sears and Roebuck. Shrimp and grits. The Captain and Tennille. The greatest of these duos is the combination of a church picnic staple and a humble breakfast food. In the case of chicken and waffles, 2+2 = 1,423,572.
For bringing this glorious combo into the culinary Zeitgeist, we can thank Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles. It is located where the tastemakers live, and it’s cheap enough that the tastemakers can afford to eat there before they hit it big and become tastemakers. So chicken and waffles had a moment, and now the duo has become a bit of a cliché. I don’t care, because for those who truly love to eat, chicken and waffles will never go out of style.
The beauty of chicken and waffles is that it doesn’t require any special preparation or rare ingredient to be delicious. A waffle, be it from Waffle House, a street vendor in Florence or a $75-a-head brunchery, is, in most cases, just a waffle. But just a waffle – fluffy, soaking up melting butter and maple syrup – is better than at least 95 percent of the food items available on earth.
That percentage is even higher for fried chicken. I’ve written about this phenomenon before, but it bears repeating. Unlike the hamburger, which can be greatly improved upon by a superior cook, fried chicken is extremely difficult to botch. Unlike the flavor chasm between a Burger King burger and a burger from Slater’s 50/50, the fried chicken available at most American chains is not that much less delicious than fried chicken made by finer restaurants. For mostly physiological reasons involving taste receptors and the body’s instinct to consume fat and protein that evolved over thousands of years, an original recipe drumstick from Popeye’s tastes better than most of the menu items at the average white tablecloth place. So if a place can beat mass market fried chicken by even a little, it is already ahead of the game. Combine superior fried chicken with a waffle -- then surround it with places constantly seeking to cash in on the latest trend instead of sticking with the tried and true -- and you have Roscoe’s. The Michelin stars may get handed out a few miles away in Beverly Hills, but Roscoe’s rumbles along satisfying diners with a combo utterly elegant in its simplicity.
On my visit Thursday, I ordered the No. 3 Herb’s Special. That’s a breast, wing, thigh and leg with two waffles. I also ordered two biscuits, because no matter what time it is, it’s always Biscuit Thirty. (I’m considering making this the third commandment of Heaven is a Buffet, but I’ll need more divine guidance before making a final determination.) A warning to those who – like me – fancy themselves big eaters. Order at least a piece down from your usual, because Roscoe’s uses mutant super chickens. The breast is roughly the size of the average man’s head. Or order your usual and take some home.
At Roscoe’s, thin, crispy skin covers meat bursting with juice. It easily crosses the superior chicken threshold. The waffle is just a waffle, but you know exactly what that means. A combination that nets a bite that includes skin, meat, waffle, butter and syrup.
The tastemakers can try to top that every time they move on to the next fad, but they’re forever doomed to fail.