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Roscoe’s House of Chicken ’n Waffles by Katie Hillenbrand – Poetry Editor
I got curious about Roscoe’s House of Chicken ’n Waffles the first time I saw the line outside the door grow to half a block long. It was Sunday mid-morning, and the folks waiting in line were animated African-American families who’d just come from church. This wasn’t a crowd that looked like they were about to eat fat-free lettuce wraps, either. There was soul food inside, real soul food in downtown Long Beach. I just knew it.
I had to get in there, but I’m not much of a line-waiter when I’m hungry, so I decided to try again anytime other than mid-morning to mid-afternoon on Sunday. So I waited a few days and went back mid-week. What I found inside kept me coming back for years.
Soon after I arrived, a hostess came to fetch me and led me into the pink dining area. I should clarify. The booths and tables are largely brown, but the walls and ceiling are lined with magenta neon lights, washing everything in pink. This glow is more noticeable when it’s dark outside than it is mid-day, but it’s unmistakably Roscoe’s. It became Pavlovian. Show me a pink glow and I salivate.
The first time I visited Roscoe’s was in the morning, so I picked one of their breakfast specials, which included chicken sausage, two eggs, grits, and a biscuit. It was fabulous, but when I tasted the meal my dining-mate had ordered, I knew what I was getting next time. Namely, chicken and waffles. In retrospect, the name of the restaurant should have tipped me off to the fact that these two items would top the scrumptious-o-meter.
So, on my second visit, I ordered Scoe’s #2, gravy on the side. A big bowl of chicken-and-onion gravy, a fried leg and thigh for dipping, and two waffles bigger than your face. The chicken is moist, crispy, and greasy, and it’s a little bite of heaven dripping in gravy. The waffles will startle you, they’re so good. I’m not exactly sure what they put in those moist, fluffy, butter-slathered wonders, but I suspect the secrets include cinnamon and clove. Add syrup, and the unexpected combination of flavors, delightfully subtle, titillates every taste bud on your tongue.
If you’re like me, at first this combination can seem a little…heavy. A little weak on the veggie front. But don’t worry; the waffles are big enough to share, and there are great veggies available, too. In fact, I recommend splitting the waffles. If you don’t, you’ll be tempted to eat until you hurt, which is not something I normally do. I did it at Roscoe’s, though, where I found myself utterly incapable of putting my fork down.
If you do get sides, let me recommend greens and mac-n-cheese. Even people who think they don’t like greens will plow through the bowl Roscoe’s serves up. Warm, bacony, only slighty bitter: like all of the selections at Roscoe’s, you’ll have to remind yourself not to fill up on them before you try everything else on your plate. The mac-n-cheese, like the greens, is obviously homemade; it’s made with several cheeses, and they recently changed the recipe to be even creamier. Try House Combo #22: you get to pick the part of the chicken you want (I recommend two thighs), greens, mac-n-cheese, and a huge chunk of cornbread. Don’t forget to order a bowl of gravy on the side!
On one of my visits to Roscoe’s, I looked over at the table next to mine and saw a luscious-looking drink. Now, the waiters are always busy at Roscoe’s due to what seems to be an endless clientele, but I managed to flag my waitress immediately to order that beautiful drink. The Sunrise, I learned, is the most delicious mix of fresh-squeezed, super-sweet oranges and fresh-squeezed, highly sweetened lemonade I can imagine. I’m not kidding, I think someone squeezed those fruits within hours, maybe minutes, of serving the drink to me. On top of that, the drink comes layered like a sunrise, lemonade underneath, orange juice on top, so you can try them separately or mixed together. This drink is magical, both in taste and presentation. Roscoe’s also offers layered combinations of juices involving fruit punch, which are possibly even more beautiful than the Sunrise, though I prefer the fresh-squeezed taste of the OJ and lemonade combo. It makes sense that I found this drink in Southern California, where the citrus is the best in the world.
Every time I tried something new at Roscoe’s, I loved it. If I’d stayed in Long Beach, I know I would have tried more combinations; I’ve heard the giblets are amazing. Everything at Roscoe’s is fresh and cooked by folks who know what they’re doing. Taste anything from Roscoe’s, and you’ll understand why they call it soul food.
You might not want to schedule any rigorous physical activities right after your visit to Roscoe’s, though. I suggest a nice, slow walk followed by a movie or a lounge on the beach. It’s worth making a day of it.
730 East Broadway
Long Beach, CA
Long Beach, CA
Dinner Check: $