One Stop: A 'Super' Chicken Choice
By Fred Sauceman.
First published in Kingsport Times-News, January 29, 2004.
Republished in The Place Setting: Timeless Tastes of the Mountain South—from Bright Hope to Frog Level (Mercer University Press, 2006).
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Ben Scharfstein was in search of something that would lure folks to a convenience store outside their neighborhood. The answer wasn’t gasoline. It wasn’t beer. It wasn’t cigarettes, a loaf of bread or a carton of milk. The answer, he discovered, was chicken.
Ben knew that the best eating out chicken he’d had as a young man growing up in Johnson City always came from the small, locally owned businesses. Places like the Henny Penny on Roan, now long gone.
So he made room, in his bustling South Roan store, for an elaborate system of broasting equipment that relies on high pressure and good, clean Canola oil to produce a piece of chicken that makes the right cracking sound on first bite, followed by a pleasing gush of moisture. The chicken is marinated in spices and coated with flour. The heat from broasting pulls the spicing into the breading.
Construction workers, church groups, professional people, and travelers in search of a leg stretch off Interstate 26 line up before Ben’s gleaming stainless steel counter for wings, thighs, breasts, legs, and livers. Ben may be next door handing out free hot cider at his wine and liquor business, the region’s largest in square footage and volume of sales, but he’s always looking over your shoulder at the convenience store. A die-cut photograph of the affable owner, captured in the characteristic casualness of a denim shirt, sits on top of the chicken counter, in perpetual grin. The black iron skillet in his hands is no randomly chosen prop. It belonged to his mother, a skilled chicken fryer from Unicoi County.
Conversations with the personable Scharfstein might cover the taste of crane meat, described by one of his hunting friends as “flying tenderloin.” He’ll most always make his way around to a fish story, or tell a tall one about stumbling upon a prolific patch of morel mushrooms, what locals call dry-land fish. Ben might tell you how to make and sell a pair of knickers, as his family of Austrian immigrants used to do in Brooklyn. He’ll show off wife Caroline’s latest hand-painted wine glass and then move quickly to a discussion on regional economic development and tourism.
But before long, he’ll get back to chicken. The never-frozen, two-day-old kind he keeps in his walk-in cooler out behind the gas pumps. Ben developed his own hot wing concoction, Buffalo style with Frank’s hot sauce, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and butter. The sauce is added warm to the crispy, broasted wings. It’s more tart than hot and produces, Ben says, “a good warm glow.”
I’ve never found a better chicken liver than the ones sold seven days a week at One-Stop. The store averages about 50 pounds of livers a day, an astounding statistic considering the number of people who claim an aversion to the lowly, bilious organ. These livers are dredged in the same flour mixture used for the broasted potato wedges, with a peppery, country-style spiciness.
The perfect beverage match is a tall cup of One-Stop’s freshly brewed sweet tea (the unsweet is hidden away behind the counter), but being the knowledgeable wine merchant he is, Ben suggests pairing livers with a real red American Zinfandel, such as Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull from California, which will hold its own with the richness and texture of the chicken livers.
“For regular chicken, served warm, I’d go with Chardonnay,” Scharfstein says. “I like chicken just as well served cold the next day, and for that, I’d recommend an herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc, since refrigeration will take some of the richness out of the chicken.”
One-Stop’s popcorn chicken ought to come with a warning label: do not drive or operate heavy machinery when in possession of this product, since it is impossible to resist opening the Styrofoam container and devouring the contents on the way home. I’ve thought about asking Judy Taylor to duct-tape the box shut so I won’t take my eyes off the road and eat.
Ben says a salesman once lost 50 pounds eating One-Stop chicken, without giving up flavor and protein. Let’s call it the South Roan diet.
All hot and ready near the chicken, you’ll find macaroni and cheese, broccoli casserole, cornbread dressing, fried okra, fried apples, and chicken gravy. The broasted potatoes are always hand-cut and never frozen. Judy Taylor, the co-manager, dips them in chicken gravy, and she’s been known to dunk a chicken liver in there, too.
Over on the other counter, there’s a sign drawing you to “the best corn dog you’ve ever eaten,” enrobed in a batter flavored with honey.
“Any time a customer wants to sample something, there’s no charge,” says Ben. “For Super Bowl parties, I like to serve food people will talk about. Chicken is easy to present, and it looks good on the plate.”
At One-Stop, you can fill up on the finest gas station cuisine around.
IF YOU GO THERE:
One-Stop Broasted Chicken and Convenience Store
1912 South Roan Street
Johnson City, Tennessee
Chicken is served until 7:30 nightly, until 2:30 p.m. on Sundays.
Major credit cards accepted.