I was taught a very valuable lesson regarding marketing by the Cheesecake Factory very early on and that lesson was not taking reservations serves as the best piece of visual marketing ever. So the masterful idea is that not taking reservations forces people to stand around and wait from fifteen minutes up to two hours and with there being no space to accommodate the often large parties, by default people stand outside, in the lobby, in the corridor, on outside benches, just absolutely everywhere. What this marketing screams to passerbyers is that this food is absolutely delicious, it bolsters the onlookers with anticipation that you too must be in on whatever it is they are selling, Cheesecake has basically perpetuated the “I want in” syndrome.
As a result of this masterful marketing scheme, many restaurants including Rose Petal Cafe & Lounge in Philadelphia have adopted the no reservations scheme and to be honest I cannot hate, because thanks to Cheesecake Factory I have been indoctrinated into the “I want in” syndrome where restaurants are concerned.
In conjunction to the no reservations the Rose Petal Cafe has a niche that they are known for and that niche is waffles all kinds of waffles, chicken and waffles, quesadilla waffles, spinach cheese waffles, almost any kind of waffle that strikes your fancy. But, while coming out of the “I want in” syndrome coma I decided to go against the grain and get catfish and grits. After all this is a soul food brunch and there nothing more soulish than grits.
When I was growing up we made grits with water and although fair tasting they weren’t creamy, they needed a boat load of salt and if you didn’t have any Philadelphia Rapa scrapple to mix in with it, you were left with a bland grain. Nowadays grits have become elevated, by adding milk or maybe half and half to develop that creamy texture, along with an infinite amount of sweet butter, and enough salt to balance it all out. It is this levitation of flavors that the Rose Petal Cafe & Lounge has done well, not just with grits, but with waffles also. Those grits came out piping hot and there were enough grits to feed a family of five a top with chives. The grits needed absolutely nothing but a spoon for me to dive in.
Accompanying the grits was a bowl of curled up catfish. Now before I proceed about the catfish, let me take you on a small trip down memory lane. Do you all remember your momma or grandma cooking fried chicken, and for some reason she was cooking it with the anticipation that your father or father figure would be walking in the door shortly, momma and big momma would cook that chicken to a golden crisp. That chicken skin glistened, the crispiness was displayed with the ever infrequent skin bubble filled with grease, the meat was juicy and flavorful, and with every crunch you felt a feeling of jubilation you could only get in your family kitchen. Yet, inevitably that father or father figure never came in the door when he was supposed to, so what happened? Mommy and big momma put that chicken breast in a flower bowl and put a plate on top of it to keep it somewhat warm. Now I don’t know what happened to the chicken breast in your house, but in my house by the time my father got home, the condensation had deflated the crispy, crunchy chicken and unfortunately, what he ate was wilted, no more grease bubbles surprises, basically unimpressive home cooked chicken. Ok ok now fast forwarding to the present to the Rose Petal Cafe, the catfish resembled that flashback fried chicken. That catfish was not crispy because the lid has been placed on top of the bowl, did I see the bowl and the top with the fish in it? No, but I tasted it and I saw and felt the skin. The fish was bordering on soggy, the crust had lost its initial burnish shimmer. The fish tasted fair but certainly unmemorable. The reason it was characterless was simple, it was not hot and it was not crispy.
Whenever you order anything crispy what the palate is really craving is layered eating even if they aren’t able to articulate that. What the gustatory cell is craving is the crunch from the skin, the slight coarseness across the tongue when it hits the crust, then the burst of flavor that implodes in the mouth which in this case should be the saltiness from the breading as it mixes with sweetness yet tanginess of the fish, then the heat from the fish just being fried, evokes the commodity of every human which is to be seen. When food is hot, it conveys to the eater that this was made just for me, the preparer is thinking of only of me, when the chef received this order, he sprung into action to present to me fried crispy catfish.
Rose Petal Cafe and Lounge you didn’t think of me when you made that catfish, you took a 1970’s home cook rookie mistake and distorted my crispy experience. In the age of Food Network and the Cooking Channel even the novice cook now knows that the lid on the bowl to conserve warmth is the enemy to crispiness.
Rose Petal Cafe I believe in redeeming grace, this fish is fixable, you can give the eater of fried food the layered eating experience they crave, it not to late to let the patron know you cooked that meal just for them and that what they eat matters. On the bright side my counterparts raved wildly about the delicious waffles.