The Hottest of Haute

Photo by Joy BastI don't believe in much anymore, but this I tell you: I'd take a bullet for Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles. I got Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles' back. And if Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles and my firstborn son were both trapped by, say, a hotel fire, and I could only save one . . . well, let's just say it's a good thing I don't have kids. You can keep your God and country, friends. I'll stand by my chicken and waffles.

Sure, someone who's paid their dues in the land of soul food told me that Roscoe's-style cuisine is designed solely to sop up the drunk left over in your gut after a long Southern night of bad beer and worse liquor. I was shocked. I consider Roscoe's the hottest of haute cuisine. I dress up to go to Roscoe's. I take Roscoe's very, very seriously. And I'm not the only one. This place is an institution—the good kind, even, not the crazy kind.

Rick James eats at Roscoe's when he's not in jail. You can always spot celebs scarfing down a 'scoe's Special late at night. And if you check out the 1988 John Cusack/Tim Robbins vehicle Tapeheads (produced by former Monkee and current auteur-about-town Mike Nesmith), there's an entire music video dedicated to the glory of Roscoe's. According to the blurb on the back of the box, it's an homage to the "outrageous underworld of chicken and waffles."

"When's the last time you had a wang with a waffle?" chides a jowly Southern fellow (who is actually King Cotton) portraying the possibly apocryphal Roscoe during a proto-hip-hop breakdown. "It's been so long," he continues, dangling a pair of handcuffs in front of the camera, "it oughta be unlawful!" In the background, sultry chicken-and-waffles dancers are preening and cooing backup vocals. It's so fucking awesome. You can't possibly understand my reaction when I first saw this—it was as if Michael Nesmith had touched my very soul. Others have felt the power of Roscoe's. And now you can, too.

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There are so many hot, glorious things you can cram into your slobberhole at Roscoe's that you could graze for hours and explode happily. Extrapolating from my sadly limited experiences there (until the Long Beach location opened, I'd have to trek to LA or freeway-armpit town Pasadena for my fix, which happened seldom to never), everything is good. The smothered potatoes? Steaming, swamped in gravy and like wonderful, thick soup at the bowl's bottom. The biscuits and corn bread and beans and rice? They stick to your ribs and don't ever let go, and you love it. But really, you come to Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles to feed yourself some by-God chicken and waffles, and I am going to tell you about those by-God chicken and waffles.

If you're one of those chicken-skin eaters, you'll figure you've died and gone to heaven, which will be good practice for when all that fried chicken skin finally clogs your arteries and kills you. But the insides are so tender and supple you might even finish the whole thing. And far be it from me to tinker with the sacred chicken-and-waffles combo, but you could be forgiven for getting a chicken-salad sandwich instead of a hunk of leg. When they're just right, these are the chicken-salad sandwiches by which I unfairly judge all others: cool and light and crisp and almost silky when you swallow, if that's not pushing a little too hard with the adjectives.

And then there are the waffles. These are the waffles God orders on those Sundays when he's just not feeling like creating anything, much less cooking and much, much less having to pick little wads of charred batter out of the runnels in the waffle iron after breakfast. (God hates that, and so do I.) Roscoe's puts cinnamon or something in them ("our own private mix," teases the menu), so they almost leap off the plate and muckle on to your face—smother 'em with butter and syrup to hold them down, and have at it. They might look thin, but they'll fill you up quick. After all the biscuits and potatoes and chicken sections, I've never quite been able to finish even one. Maybe that's why I keep going back. By this point, it's no longer a meal—it's a quest. Bury my heart with chicken and waffles if I don't come back alive.

Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles, located at 730 E. Broadway, Long Beach, is open Mon.-Thurs., 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., 8 a.m.-midnight. (562) 437-8355 or (562) 437-6285. Dinner for two, $15, food only. Beer and wine. AmEx, MC and Visa accepted.

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