Joe Scroggs, a Chapel Hill, North Carolina native was transplanted into Chicago in 2012. The winters—meh, the food—awesome, the city—nothing like it. Joe thought everything was cool in Chicago, except for one really important thing—he couldn’t find a good chicken biscuit anywhere.
He could complain or he could take action.
Joe took action and made his own damn chicken biscuit. He and his dad decided to start a food truck and this is when Fooda partner, The Roost Carolina Kitchen was born. When they first started, they just served chicken biscuits. They’ve since expanded, but only slightly—the best way to get really good at something is to focus on just a few fundamental things.
We caught up with food truck veteran, Ashley Gleason, General Manager of The Roost to tell us why, exactly, they’re the “Home of the best damn chicken in Chicago”, and to give us a peek into the unexpected world of food truck politics.
Chicagoans are happy The Roost is part of the food truck landscape, what was it like in the early days?
Joe was and still is hardcore about fried chicken. He’d get up at 3 am to trek to his rented kitchen space and make batches of biscuits and fry chicken. He’d sell out at breakfast, head back to the kitchen to make more, sell out at lunch, come back, and do it all again.
The Roost hit the food truck scene just as they were gaining popularity in Chicago – it was an awesome time!
We’re almost embarrassed to ask, what exactly makes a chicken biscuit?
It’s fried chicken on a buttermilk biscuit of heaven, basically. We have three options: (1) The Original Fried Chicken Sandwich; (2) The Spicy Chicken – which is definitely the most popular; and (3) The Habanero BBQ Fried Chicken.
When you say, “spicy chicken”—just how spicy is it?
If you put sriracha hot sauce on everything, you’re good—it has a similar level of heat.
What makes your chicken the “best damn chicken in Chicago”?
Mostly, it’s all about the biscuit—especially if you’re measuring it by southern standards. It needs to be very fluffy and delicate. I’ve watched trays of biscuits get tossed if they weren’t flawless.
We make everything in-house. Throughout the day we’re constantly cooking and everything is fried to order. Even if it takes a few minutes longer, it’s the only way to do it.
For a casual dining restaurant, the rigorous quality standards are intense. When you visit, you need to pair your chicken biscuit with mac and cheese and wash it down with a hot-out-of-the-oven peach cobbler. It’s basically joy and happiness on the end of a spoon.
If we want to eat like we’re in Chapel Hill, what should we put on our chicken biscuit?
Cheddar, honey, and jam.
Can we make chicken biscuits at home?
Honestly, this is best left to the pros. Planning is essential to good fried chicken. You need to start prepping your chicken a day before you plan to eat it, starting with a 24-hour brine. An hour will do if you’re in a pinch, but a full day is best. Doing this ups the juicy factor big time.
Season your flour and use it to bread every inch of your chicken, no matter the cut. We use a seasoned flour breading (sorry, we can’t share Joe’s secret family recipe!)
When you dip the chicken in the fryer, a magical crust of deliciousness forms immediately to completely seal the juicy chicken. Skipping this step is the best way to have dry chicken.
Now’s the scary part – the fryer!
Joe doesn’t let just anyone touch the fryer—I’ve never touched it because I’m petrified! At The Roost, if you have the honor and are allowed near the fryers, you’ve had months of training.
Unless you’ve been frying chicken a while, you definitely need an oil thermometer to make sure your oil is at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Did we mention you also need a fire extinguisher nearby?
What advice do you have for other food truck owners looking to open a brick and mortar location?
For The Roost, the transition was natural. Joe was getting to the point where he couldn’t accommodate the volume of truck sales. We always tell other trucks that when they’re looking for licensed kitchen space, they should find an empty restaurant they can rent out. I mean, you already have to pay, this way you can open the space as a restaurant when you’re ready.
How much grit do you need to run a food truck?
Food trucks see their fellow trucks as both competition and colleagues. There’s this bizarre hierarchy, if you’re a new truck on the road you need to prove your street cred before you earn the respect of the other trucks, and at the same time, they all have your back.
Trucks are horribly competitive in Chicago – there just isn’t enough space for everyone to park and sell their goods. You’re out there fighting for yourself. A dead giveaway that a new truck on the literal and figurative block is uber-competitive in securing a spot. A seasoned food truck knows wherever they park, they’ll sell out.
Some of the newer trucks leave what we call burner cars, basically a crappy car and leave it overnight. I mean, the Roost will nab a spot at 4am, the early bird gets the chicken biscuit, right? I talk more about the wild world of the food truck industry in my interview on the Working Shift.
Why do you love working at The Roost?
We truly value each other – not everyone can do this job. We offer counter service that exemplifies what it means to offer southern hospitality. From the checkerboards on the tables – we want you to feel like you’re at home.
Thanks to Ashley and The Roost for giving us a peek into the world of chicken biscuits and food trucks. If you like their food truck, they’ll blow your mind when you visit one of their restaurants in Lakeview or River West. Keep track of where their food truck will be by following them on Twitter or Facebook!