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Eat Feature

Chicken Box Blues

When You Leave Baltimore, You Find Yourself Missing the Little Wings

Michael Northrup

Eat Special Issue 2004

Home Sweet, Tasty Home Few things give us that feeling of being warm, cozy, comfy, and cared for like our home--unless of c...

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Eat 2004

By Vincent Williams | Posted 2/25/2004

So, I've been living in the City of Brotherly Love for about four years now, and, brother, the love has got to be coming from the food. Philadelphia must have the fattiest, unhealthiest, most deliciousest food on the planet. I'm talking about the stuff people usually think about: cheese steaks on every corner, warm pretzels, huge slices of pizza, etc.

Of course, there's Baltimore food that I miss. I've openly mocked a couple of Philly restaurateurs for what they claim is a crab cake. Apparently, in other parts of the world, you don't put Old Bay in crab cakes. And finding a true lake trout sandwich is nigh impossible. Apparently, in other parts of the world, "lake trout" means "lake trout," not "whiting."

But seafood aside, you know what I really miss? Chicken boxes. As the name so clearly states, it is a box of chicken. Add a side dish or two, like fries or the more continental fried rice, and you have the famous Baltimore chicken box. And I can't find a decent one in Philadelphia to save my life.

It seems like a simple enough formula. Five chicken wings. The aforementioned starchy side. Those two slices of white bread that no one ever eats. But, see, the chicken is the thing that's a real Goldilocks Enigma. I've seen boxes where the wings are too little, which is unsettling because they conjure images of small, sickly chickens coughing and hacking in the dark. But then, the mammoth wing is off-putting in its own way, too. I mean, why are they so big? Some of these things look like friggin' turkey wings or something. I can't eat something that looks like it came from Monster Island.

I miss the good chicken box. I miss the perfectly sized, perfectly seasoned wings with the slab of hastily cut fried potato wedges next to them. I miss the hustle and bustle of the line at Lexington Market as the women mercilessly bark at you, "Saltpepperketchup?" Hell, I miss that messy goulash that is born, as you blissfully shake it in that plastic bag, from the divine alchemy that transpires when the saltpepperketchup hits the chicken grease in the almost airtight Styrofoam container. I even miss that lovingly wrapped white bread that, again, no one eats.

And, of course, I miss washing the whole meal down with a lovely half-and-half. What's a half-and-half? That, my friend, would take an entirely different ode.

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