In the eight months I’ve been penning “Vagabond Tales” I’ve written about experiences from all corners of the globe.
Some of them have been exotic such as swimming with elephants in Thailand, and others have been a bit more dangerous such as kayaking with Alaskan killer whales or nearly being kidnapped in a Borneo jungle. I have ventured onto floating islands in Lake Titicaca, roasted marshmallows over an active volcano in Guatemala, and snorkeled with irukandji – one of the deadliest animals on Earth – off the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.
This past week, however, I went and did something I’ve never done before:
I ate at a Bojangles restaurant in the American south.
Wait. Are you kidding me? Bojangles? You’re calling this a travel experience?
As I explored in my article “Why Do We Take Pictures Of Our Food?” regional cuisine is as much a part of the travel experience as are museums, monuments, or UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Eating ceviche in Peru is as integral to the country as Machu Picchu. Pairing a Guinness with a pot of beef stew is as important to an Irish visit as kissing the Blarney Stone or staying in a Connemara Castle.And, along this same reasoning, ordering chicken and biscuits in the American south is right on par with touring Civil War battlefields. There are even some who may argue that a visit to the South is like visiting an entire other country to begin with. Though I won’t jump into that debate, from the copious amount of Confederate flags still flying, there are some who still side with the soldiers who once tried to make it a reality.
In fact, if you look at a map of Bojangles locations across the country (for the record, Bojangles is currently in 10 U.S. states and has one location in … Honduras?), with the exception of Pennsylvania the map could almost be mistaken for a map of the former Confederacy.
Given this regional dominance I feel fairly confident in saying that eating at a Bojangles can be considered an authentically Southern experience. On a recent stop in Weaverville, North Carolina, as I discussed the quality of the grits with an employee I’m going to call “Flo,” I realized that the experience I was having was no different than any first-time situation I’ve encountered elsewhere across the globe.
So, in the spirit of the recent, viral review of a North Dakota Olive Garden, I hereby offer my rave review of the Weaverville, North Carolina, Bojangles.
The first thing I noticed once inside the door was that there were only three colors on the menu. Actually, that’s not true. The very first thing I noticed was the cardboard sign informing customers that the outdoor ashtray was not a trash can.
Comparing the menu with the food choices on display, I arrived at a curious conclusion. It appeared that the only colors on the menu were red, yellow and brown. Ketchup is red, fried chicken is yellow and the Bo-tato fries are pretty close to brown. The menu, it seemed, mimicked the colors of the food.
What’s notable about this is that there is no green on the menu, a nod to the fact that none of the sandwiches appear to be served with any form of vegetables. No lettuce. No tomato. Just brown and yellow; chicken and biscuits.
The next thing I noticed after the fried menu was that Flo spoke into her microphone like a contestant on “The Price Is Right.” Repeating my order one item at a time into the skinny black microphone, although the words coming out of her mouth contained phrases such as “Cajun biscuit” and “side of grits,” she may as well have saying “I’m going to say $1, Bob.”
Fully immersed in the experience and excited about the prospect of dining on my Cajun Filet Biscuit, Flo informed me there was a possibility I might not get my side order of grits.
“Oooh they’re really good today,” she confided in me with a smile. “I’ll put the order in for ya, but we’ve been eating them all morning and I’m not sure if there will be any left!”
My gut told me that Flo was just being friendly, but until the cup of grits materialized on my plate two minutes later there was a part of me that somewhat believed her.
With my tray of food in hand, the third thing I noticed after sitting in a surprisingly comfortable seat was that there was a flat screen television inside of the sparsely-filled dining area. Although I have since been informed that this is becoming common practice, it was the first time I have ever seen a television in the dining area of a fast-food restaurant. On the TV was an ad for calorie-free Splenda, although as a man in overalls filled his large soda cup to the brim with Coca-Cola, I doubted there was anything about his pour that was anywhere close to being calorie-free.
Finally, all peripheral distractions aside, the moment had finally come to try the food. The Cajun Filet Biscuit was arranged just as promised: chicken, biscuit – that’s all. The grits sat like a scoop of fine white sand. I skipped out on the mega-sized soda and opted instead for a coffee.
And you know what?
I loved it. I loved every bite of it. For $4.99 I was full, the biscuit tasted fresh, the grits weren’t as bad as all Yankees seem to make them out to be, and despite the lack of anything green, I could see why there was a line that nearly stretched out the door.
Actually, to be fair, the coffee was terrible and I poured it in the grass outside.
Nevertheless, I can now say with confidence that not only does a Mendoza malbec go swimmingly with a cut of filet mignon, but chicken does in fact go well with homemade biscuits and a side of unflavored grits.
Will I stop at another Bojangles on my road trip through the South? Probably not. The price sure is right, but I like seeing a little green on my menu.
Walking out into the heat of the summer sun, I passed Flo as we crossed paths while headed towards the door.
“Good aint it?” she smiled.
“Yes ma’am,” I could honestly say. “Yes ma’am it was.”