A brief essay on Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles, with epiphany and references to Joseph Campbell
- Thi N. Sep 5, 2001 06:06 PM
Perhaps an Unlocking of the Deep Inner Logic Of Chicken and Waffles, or Perhaps I am Just On Crack
I had a bad craving, so I popped into the Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles on Gower. Odd looks all around - first I thought it was my weird, haven't-quite-adapted-to-the-west-coast-wardrobe-wise-yet mix of east coast preppie top and surfer shorts, but I figure it was because I came in alone. Roscoe's is not exactly the kind of meal you normally eat alone.
I got what I always get - quarter chicken smothered in gravy, two waffles. Scoe's Combo #2. As always - smear the melting butter evenly over the waffles, douse with almost all the syrup. Cut off a bit of chicken, making sure to get some skin and meat, douse in gravy, roll in a bit of waffle, and eat the whole package.
Now I know Roscoe's is far from having great fried chicken. And it's waffles aren't exactly the best. Not even crispy - kind of soft and halfway to mealy. But the combination has always been perfect in my book. I'd remarked on this before - that the first time I had chicken and waffles, it seemed absolutely appropriate, familiar, perfectly balanced, and completely unsurprising.
I was meditating again on its rightness, and on the odd feeling of familiarity, when I was suddenly struck. The soft, pliant doughy waffles, the sweetness, the crisp chicken skin, the deep mingling fats - this was another version of Peking Duck.
Peking Duck - favored Beijing classic. Crispy roasted duck skin, served on a pillowy, almost granular rice cake with sweet, deep hoisin sauce, the skin and sauce rolled inside the tender cake. Chicken and waffles - crispy fried chicken skin, chicken bits, with sweet syrup and the depth of gravy and butter, in a pillowy, almost granular waffle.
The effect is the same - crispy riding inside moist and tender, deep fat flavors sliding around your mouth, cut through and tied together by a lingering, dense sweetness. There are balances, too - chicken fat isn't as intense as duck fat, but the chicken fat at Roscoe's gets aid from the oniony gravy, the butter.
Could this be some insight into some deep universal archetype within the human consciousness? The Odyssey and Star Wars both draw on the Hero Without a Face; Peking Duck and Chicken and Waffles both draw on some great sweet-crispy-poultry-in-pillowy-dough buried in our animal forebrains? Whatever.
I tried one purely Peking style - ripped off a piece of fried skin and rolled it in waffle. No discernable chicken flavor. Chicken skin, I guess, is just not as intense as duck skin. Needs the meat.
It really is almost eerie how exactly like the texture and sweetness of Peking Duck rice cakes those Roscoe's Waffles really are.
Second potential theory as to why this combination, (fatty-salty-sugary) strikes a universal chord: our wonderful hard-wired human craving for salt, sugar, and fat, which is probably a evolutionary hold-over from the days when we were all hunter-gatherers. We have this craving particularly when stressed; it's why the diet industry booms. On the other hand, where would we hounds be without it? Can anyone find me a traditional or peasant cuisine which puts a premium on food which is salt free, unsweetened and fatless?!
OF course, that brings us to the other two important food groups, caffene and ethanol...
richard gould-saltman, pausing now for more caffene....
re: r gould-saltman
Uhm, an interesting piece but it doesn't alter the unfortunate fact that the food at Roscoe's just isn't very good.
I'd like to like Roscoe's and every three or four years I give it a shot to see if anything's changed, but it never does. I think it's continuing popularity can only be attributed to the lack of decent alternatives for this type of food in LA.