Monday, February 15, 2016

I Went to A Kentucky Fried Chicken Buffet...

...and it was awesome.

By: Jimbo X

In the American South, there is a longstanding stereotype that African Americans absolutely love fried chicken. As long-time readers of The Internet Is In America can tell you, however, this is actually more of a regional, rural birth rite than any sort of ethnoracial qualifier. I come from a long line of Appalachian trailer trash with skin whiter than albino mayonnaise, and my goodness, we ate fried chicken every opportunity we could when I was growing up. Fourth of July, Easter, Thanksgiving ... I'm pretty sure we ordered a bucket of original recipe and mashed potatoes for Christmas once. The Colonel was such a staple of my diet during my formative years that, even at the ripe old age of 30, I'm pretty sure at least half of my DNA is comprised of whatever they put in that delicious, delicious brown gravy

The thing is, I really don't get an opportunity to slake upon KFC's assorted offerings that often anymore. As far as quick bites, the fast food stalwart doesn't really lend itself well to always-on-the-go junk food (and junk culture) consumers such as myself. The containers are bulky, the food is greasy, it leaves bones all over the place, you have to work with all those damn lids, so on and so forth. It's tasty, to be sure, but at Taco Bell or Burger King, all I have to do is peel back a paper wrapper, chew, and occasionally shat out some turquoise-colored after-meal. The Colonel, by contrast, makes you work a little for your calories, and by golly, I need those precious, squandered minutes to do more important things with my life, like write about Robocop cartoons from the 1980s.

But lo and behold, I recently stumbled across something that made me view KFC in an entirely different light. Before we begin, however, a quick primer on the geography of metro Atlanta is necessary. About 90 percent of the city proper rests in Fulton County, a 1 million person-plus, backwards California-shaped swath that stretches for about 530 square miles from Chattahoochee Hills a half hour south of Atlanta all the way to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains damn near an hour north of the ATL. The county is bifurcated by Atlanta, with the southern portion of the county by and large home to economically-disadvantaged African Americans and the northern portion of the county by and large home to rich white and Asian motherfuckers. 

With a population nearing 100,000 people, Roswell is one of the larger north Atlanta 'burbs, and with an average annual household income stretching well beyond $100K, it's also one of the wealthiest. By and large, it's an utterly unremarkable town, one of those shitty Southern locales that's 90 percent subdivisions and half-filled strip malls, but because they've got a lot of parks and really overpriced downtown restaurants, they tend to think they're a lot better than they really are. Oh, and their mayor is racist as fuck. That probably needs to be mentioned somewhere.

Alas, beyond the ungodly traffic near Georgia 400 and all of the monuments to slave owners, you will find at least one jewel in the proverbial dumpster. Folks, Roswell is home to an all-you-can-eat KFC buffet

Conducting subsequent research, I discovered specialty restaurants of the sort - in the same vein as this Chick-fil-A buffet - aren't all that aberrational. In fact, there are quite a few KFC buffets throughout the metro Atlanta area but by golly, this was the first such location my peepers had ever seen. So, what is it actually like to waltz into the place, plop down $8.29 USD and go to town on some biscuits and mashed taters? Well, let's take a photographic journey, why don't we?

First things first, the exterior and interior of the building is rather unremarkable. In fact, if it wasn't for the gigantic metal buffet line, it would be completely indistinguishable from all of the other KFC restaurants out there.  

The set-up was EXTREMELY low-tech. Expecting ceramic plates, a'la Golden Corral? That's elitist bullshit, here at the KFC buffet you have to eat off flimsy plastic trays and honest-to-goodness STYROFOAM plates. And as someone who is well versed in economical household goods, I can almost guarantee you these are the Dollar Tree plate-bowls, too. 

Which brings us to the drink fountain. All in all, it is pretty much what you would expect. In keeping with Yum! Brands tradition, all of the offerings are Pepsi-branded. And perhaps appealing to the region's growing Hispanic audience, the fountain also offered apple-flavored soda, which is definitely NOT something you'd see at most establishments with a high clientele quotient of uppity white folks. 

...unfortunately, I didn't get to try out the delicious-looking apple-cola because the goddamn thing was unplugged. Yes, that's right, they turned off the fountain just in time for the evening rush, so the only thing I could pour down my throat hole was good old fashioned agua.

The buffet itself was broken up into salad offerings, sides and desserts and, of course deep-fried poultry. All in all, it was a rather unremarkable set-up, although the stickers kinda' made up for its abject normalness. 

As far as the veggie offerings go, you had the standard shredded lettuce, onions, coleslaw, carrots and corn. Probably the weirdest thing here was the inclusion of sliced up cranberry jam, which to me, doesn't exactly feel like the kind of thing you want sandwiched in between your original recipe chicken and a gravy soaked biscuit. And speaking of gravy...

Folks, the sides-section is reason enough to visit the restaurant. You get a mountain of mashed potatoes, BOTH kinds of gravy (the smoky, smooth brown sauce and the chunky, milky white variety) and if that wasn't enough, a delicious macaroni jambalaya, too. I'm not sure if it's a KFC diktat or some improvisation from the employees (about half and half Hispanic and African-American), but the beans and rice definitely stood out. The frijoles were embedded with slivers of jalape├▒o, while the rice had chunks of maize in it, with just a hint of Southwestern seasoning. All in all, it was a downright awesome syncretism of Southeastern soul food and South of the Border home cooking, and it is worth going out of your way to experience. Well, if you live kinda' close by, anyway. 

Eh, and what about the desserts? You are in luck, amigo, because that evening, there was a giant aluminum foil tray filled with peach cobbler, topped by a super-sugary layer of frosting. In an unrelated note, I have no idea why obesity rates in the Southland are so much higher than other parts of the country, either. 

As for the chicken buffet itself? Well, seeing as how I stopped by right when it was closing, the pickings ... to say the least .... were slim. As in, the only thing that was left were the crispy remnants of thighs, legs and breasts patrons gobbled up two hours earlier.  

However, the folks behind the counter were gracious enough to hand me as much fried and grilled chicken from those giant industrial ovens as I wanted. To the franchisers in Roswell, I just want you to know that your crew - as of mid Jan. 2016 - were fucking awesome and everything a fast food crew ought to be. They were prompt, considerate and very friendly, and they didn't even ask any questions when I stuck my camera under the sneeze guard to take up-close photos of the drumsticks. Not all fast food employees deserve $15 an hour, but in my book, the guys and gals at THIS Kentucky Fried Chicken establishment absolutely deserve it. 

You know, there sure are a lot of food snobs out there, especially in the metro Atlanta environs. Just two miles away from this very KFC restaurant there is this thing called Canton Street, which is home to a bunch of ritzy "independent" restaurants that are actually heavily financed by the city's downtown development authority (so much for local governments not picking winners and losers in commerce, no?) All of those crypto-racist, gentrification-and-"walkability"-loving', poor-people-hatin' suburban supremacists can keep their $93 hamburgers and microscopic portions of filet mignon, 'cause I'd much rather kick back, toss down $9 and eat plate after plate of delicious, deep fried chicken with REAL working class Americans. Not only is it a less pretentious and more cost-efficient dining experience, I am damn CONVINCED that the quality of food here is superior to whatever you'd find at those neo-yuppie haunts, anyway. 

So what more can I say? For less than it takes to pick up a DVD, you can slake upon as much macaroni, rice, brown gravy, bean paste and poultry as you want, and it is fantastic. Really, one has to wonder why more restaurants do not offer similar services - I mean, who wouldn't want to visit a Taco Bell buffet? That's right, nobody alive

In all seriousness though, visit this place and its kindred. The heart and soul of any small or midsize city isn't in its synthetic,  government-subsidized downtown districts, but in the small franchisees in the pothole-strewn parts of town where the lights don't work half the time. Not only are you subjecting yourself to some extremely decadent comfort food goodness, you are also helping support the true working class and sending a big, fat, hearty "eff you" to the crony capitalist elites. 

I'm still not sure what the famed "seven herbs and spices" are supposed to be, but at this restaurant in the northern 'burbs, I'm pretty sure there's an eighth in every biscuit and drumstick: proletariat pride, and by God, that's something you owe yourself a taste of every now and then. 

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