My hometown Facebook community was in a kind of mourning a couple of weeks ago.
The Roost, a Toormina chicken shop that had served generations of school students, tradies and busy families, was calling it a day.
I haven’t seen a hyper-local post shared so quickly by so many people. The sad and shocked reactions piled up as those still in the area planned last-minute trips for some fried chicken, chips and gravy; and those of us hundreds or thousands of kilometres away reminisced fondly.
If you grew up in suburban Australia, chances are you grew up with your neighbourhood chicken shop. They’re small businesses that tend to attract a weirdly loyal following from locals, even more than cafes or even fish and chips shops.
For me, The Roost was the only must-visit stop-in whenever I came home to visit my parents. And not because it was the best food in town; far from it. The reviews on Google and Facebook are less than flattering, and it’s by no means a gourmet dining experience.
The hipster cafes and fine dining options popping up in nearby Sawtell and along the Jetty Strip were far more to my, let’s be real, snobbier tastes after living in bigger, more cosmopolitan cities. But none of them compelled me to visit in quite the same way as The Roost.
Nothing beat walking into that tiny takeaway wedged between a pub and drive-thru bottle-shop, across an ugly carpark filled with potholes older than the high schoolers working the counter.
It was never the chicken I was after, though others might have been craving it. It was always the chips; or more importantly, the chicken salt that came with the chips.
If you don’t know what chicken salt is, I’d recommend reading Adam Liaw’s deep dive into the Australian phenomenon. Basically, it’s a savoury, seasoned salt; a golden dusting of umami on top of chips that leaves regular salt in the shade. After six months in chicken salt-less Canada, I made some homemade stuff from this recipe.
The Roost knew how to do chicken salt, far better than anywhere else I’ve been. If you were getting a medium chips, they’d load in the first scoop, add a dusting of chicken salt, then top it with the final scoop and add even more of the salt. It meant consistent saltiness the whole way through (though probably too much for most people).
The outside porch of the shop, superheated by the reflective carpark and blocked from any seabreeze, was generally too hot to sit at, so I’d take the chips up to Boambee Headland and watch the waves. It wasn’t the taste of the chips, it was the nostalgia that came with them.
In a town where businesses would regularly fold before the summer season was up, or would lose their space to one of the major fast food chains, The Roost was a constant year-in, year-out.
From family dinners to after-school snacks, all the way through to those visits for nostalgia’s sake, it was always there to offer up hot chips drowned in salty goodness. Farewell.