Monday, May 30, 2011

Road Chicken

On this Memorial Day, I'm going to break my prohibition of meat related topics and discuss something near to my heart.

Nestled in the hills of Pennsylvania, near Laughlintown and Idlewild on Route 30, is a little place that we like to call "road chicken."  Road chicken is not its name.  As far as I know, it doesn't have a name.  Hell, it doesn't even have a building, but that doesn't make the food any less delicious.  Road chicken is just what my family calls any place that cooks and sells chicken at a roadside bar-b-que pit.  When approaching road chicken, it is possible to see the plumes of smoke from a mile away.  At this point, it is a good idea to roll down your windows to allow the smell to permeate your car. 

It is unclear how the gentlemen who run this stand create the magic that can make the mouth of a vegetarian water, but they do.  As far as I can gather, the process involves marinading or brining the chicken in some sort of vinegar mixture (probably salt, pepper, vinegar, and water) before tossing it on the flame.  An intricate ballet of flipping ensues as the chicken slowly cooks.  At some point, through skill and experience, the head cook deems that the chicken is ready for a bath and it is placed in a basin full of vinegary liquid.  This extra step ensures that the chicken is extra tender and moist.  It rests in its bath until it is time for it to be wrapped in aluminum foil and sold.

The wrapping process is undertaken by a man whose age can only be estimated as very, very old.  During busy times (i.e. any time that road chicken is open), the line can line span the parking lot that houses the pits; however, nothing can rush the man who wraps the chicken.  The care that he takes is mesmerizing.  He carefully grasps a breast, thigh, and leg with a set of tongs and places them on a piece of pre-cut aluminum foil.  Then he gingerly wraps the chicken completing the process by twisting the foil around the end of the leg.  Every year I worry about the old man, but he persists.  If I reach half his age, I hope I still have his tenacity. 

So, you have been in line for half an hour, and you have placed your chicken order.  This is the time to make a difficult decision: do you get the cole slaw?  For me, this is the only decision since giving up chicken three years ago, but it is perfect blend of blissfully tangy vinegar, mayo, and cabbage.  Pair it with an orange soda or root beer, and it is truly worthy of being a meal in itself.  Absolutely wonderful.

At this point, you can proceed to your car to travel to your final destination, or you can choose to eat at one of the four picnic tables to one side of the lot.  On a beautiful summer day, eating at the picnic table is a pleasure, and there is something primal about tearing the chicken apart with your bare hands.  Unfortunately, this is also problematic because road chicken has no bathrooms.  This isn't that much of a problem, however, because it is a good excuse to visit the Pie Shoppe in nearby Laughlintown.   

This may be an odd topic for Memorial Day, but I thought it was fitting.  Road chicken is a testament to American fortitude.  I have seen them cooking in rain and wind storms, yet every year they return.  It is a local business which provides delicious food for the price of a McDonald's combo meal.  So, next time you pass a road side chicken pit, give them a chance.  You might end up with salmonella, but you might end up with something damn tasty too.


  1. Lisa, your posts, your writing, your passion, it all inspires me. You are absolutely correct, though, about the smell. I'm pretty sure that early cartoonists were smelling road chicken when they drew up a cartoon floating in the air, with the smell of something completely delicious tickling their noses!

  2. Thank you. Your imagery made me smile.

    Granted, the smell isn't nearly a enticing, but I'm going to do talk about the vegetarian equivalent (roadside produce stands) very soon.