ST PETE – The year was 1998 and it was my first time in Los Angeles. Fresh out of college and newly commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, I had been assigned to Ft Lewis for the summer until my Officer Basic Course for my branch assignment began in Alabama a few months later.
The drive out to the Seattle/Tacoma area from PA had been my first trip to the west coast. California had always held this tremendous mystique for me, so when it was time to head to Alabama at the end of the summer, I took advantage of the opportunity to drive down the coast for a long weekend before heading east to Fort McClellan.
I had grown up as an MTV kid of the '80s. All of the bands were coming out of the LA club scene – The Roxy, The Hollywood Bowl, The Whiskey a Go Go. I had read Less than Zero and been forced to suffer through enough of my mother's Movies of the Week to fall in love with the imagery of the cliffs and the canyons, the beautiful shoreline, the sun-setting over the water.
I knew absolutely nothing about the actual city, so armed with only a map and my car I took a self-directed tour of all the top tourist spots – Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Mann's Chinese Theater, etc. I thought the clubs would be bigger and for some reason assumed Rodeo Drive would be all but paved in gold, so while much of it was something of a let down, I'm not sure the city ever had a chance to live up to my unrealistic expectations.
One thing I do remember quite fondly is the food. Without the means to take in a meal at Spago, I had but two legendary greasy spoons on my radar: Fat Burger and Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles, both of which had been immortalized by LA pop culture. Neither disappointed.
Some people sport a puzzled grin at the mention of chicken and waffles, but sweet and salty have long been an American standard and it doesn't take too much imagination to consider sopping up a little bit of expertly-fried, perfectly-seasoned breaded chicken skin in some maple syrup.
As such, Roscoe's has remained a Hollywood institution for decades. While I have recreated this delicacy on numerous occasions with some Publix fried chicken and a waffle from my iconic, early '80s, motel-style waffle maker, I have never come across this perfect late-night/morning after combination locally … until now.
Heading back south from Tampa much later than anticipated recently, my son and I had decided to grab a bite out rather than cook when we got home. We'd passed the exit for downtown St. Pete already, so I figured rather than turn around we'd hit Skyway Jack's, one of our favorites. Then I remembered that on our last trip there, I'd seen a sign for a chicken & waffle joint at the near corner where you turn left onto U.S. 19 to go to Jack's.
It's always difficult to take a chance on something new when an old favorite is at hand, but we were feeling adventurous and pulled into Rush Hour Chicken & Waffles – a move we would not regret!
Though its understated environs make it easy to blend in, the food assures it will stand out. Local entrepreneur Towan Rush has created a first-class soul food joint that also happens to offer a master presentation of this iconic dish.
Rush, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta, offers a complete menu of southern standards and while it's the chicken & waffles that are highlighted, there's plenty of other dishes to inspire repeat visits. In fact, some of the sides alone warrant the journey.
I've always been surprised how few restaurants in our area specialize in fried chicken, being that it's such a staple in nearly every other southern market. Rush's top shelf, perfectly-seasoned and made to order poultry is the most memorable I've had locally. Its tight, crispy skin locks in all of that greasy goodness, making for a moist and succulent bird. We sampled several of the sides including the mac & cheese, squash casserole and yams, none of which were anything short of magnificent. Everything was so perfect that it's hard to imagine Rush Hour not becoming something of a local institution itself.
Rush and his staff are attentive and eager to please, giving the experience a very genuine, down-home southern feel. It's his place and you are very welcome. For less than $20, the two of us ate like kings and there was certainly enough for leftovers had we not found it so hard to push away from the table before it had been picked clean. It looks like there's another reason for Manatee residents to cross the Skyway to get something to eat.
Rush Hour Chicken & Waffles is located at 2140 34th St. South in St. Petersburg. Its hours are 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday. Phone: (727) 321-2800.
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