Pictured: a close-up of Sal’s fingers covered in barbecue sauce, ribs blurry at the bottom of the frame. We are at Rooster’s, and we are feasting.
Based on a recommendation from a friend, we visit Rooster’s in St. Paul. It’s small, plopped down on a corner in an otherwise purely residential neighborhood. There’s a small garden center just down the block. When we walk inside, we smell the fryers: chicken, batter, potatoes. The old booth we slide into has been worn smooth by hundreds of people passing through. This is more of a takeout place, we realize, but we look through the menu, order at the counter, and wait. It’s agonizing. The smells of freshly fried chicken and sticky ribs cover us, and we stare enviously at the people who come in for their takeout.
When our meals are ready, we stare for a moment at the mountains in front of us. I have a pulled pork sandwich, a mound of meat on a sturdy bun, coleslaw waiting in its ramekin. Sal, more ambitious, has a rib and chicken dinner. He offers me some chicken, and the batter crackles, the juices flow, the chicken–hot, so perfectly hot–slides into my mouth as it falls off the bone. We cannot believe how delicious and perfect this chicken is. It’s the platonic ideal of fried chicken. We could eat here every week but know that it wouldn’t be good news for our arteries.
Not long ago, another fried-chicken joint moved into St. Paul. It’s the second location of a spot in Minneapolis that’s more “upscale,” I guess. There’s a full bar, and there are different kinds of fried chicken, and it all feels neatly packaged and streamlined. The bus I take every day goes by Rooster’s, and every evening I see the place is bustling. Have those people ever been to Rooster’s? Would they be here if they knew they could get tender ribs and flavorful chicken elsewhere without the wait and bourgeois trappings?