Pictures of the celebrities who’ve dined at Roscoe’s at any of its four locations over the last 29 years adorn the walls of Anchorage’s most famous soul food restaurant, set up on 6th Ave. and C Street since 2014.
So when the early Aughties hip-hop sensation, the Ying Yang Twins stopped by last Friday, it was nothing so out of the ordinary.
“Roscoe’s reminds me of home, a home-cooked meal,” said D-Roc, one half of the Atlanta-based duo.
“Food is what brings us to Roscoe’s,” said Kaine. “I look at a picture of us back on the wall from the last time we was here, made my hair stand on the back of my neck. I forgot we were that young. I said to D-Roc, ‘we had to be 21, 22 on that. Not for nothing, but Roscoe’s has been going longer than we’ve been a rap group. We’re about half into what he’s into and we’re almost 20 years since ‘Whistle While You Twerk’.”
Other celebrities who’ve left their signatures and photos behind include Quincy Jones, Danny Glover, Dave Koz, Richard Pryor, Hammer, Lisa Murkowski, Snoop Dogg and the star owner Roscoe Wyche considers the biggest of them all — Rosa Parks.
“She came in when the restaurant was on Government Hill,” Roscoe recalled of the civil rights icon’s visit. “The good thing about her coming was that we were on her schedule, and then she requested to come back before she left.”
Roscoe’s father, obviously of the same name, opened the first location in Government Hill back in 1988. Since then, the restaurant has hopped between the Sears Mall, the Northway Mall, and four years ago, the spot on C and 6th, combining with Tito’s Gyros which was already on site.
“This spot came available, so we kept the gyros name and added Roscoe’s Catfish and BBQ,” Roscoe said. “Called it ‘soul food and Greek fusion.’”
Roscoe spent the formative years of his youth in Fayetteville, N.C., where soul food cooking was an integral part of his upbringing, and became even more so when the military brought his family moved to Anchorage in 1978. His father opened the first Roscoe’s in Government Hill 10 years later.
“My want was to bring the southern cuisine here on a large scale,” Roscoe said. “Anchorage has a lot of transplants from different places. Most people in Alaska came from somewhere and they tell me this takes them back home with southern hospitality… Giving people a taste of home is what we do and we’ve developed a pretty loyal following.”
Roscoe’s prowess cooking catfish, Fayetteville-style BBQ pork, which he said he helped introduce to Alaska in the first place, and a gumbo specially designed for Alaska, has maintained that following in spite of the several moves.
“Normally we used a Louisiana recipe for gumbo, but I Alaskanized it,” Roscoe said. “Down in Louisiana they use blue crab, which are really tiny, but they really enjoy the sweetness, and Andouille sausage. But up here, to make it Alaskan, we use Alaskan King Crab in gumbo, and we also use reindeer sausage, along with some Louisiana hot links, so we call it Alaskan Seafood Gumbo. We’ve gotten good reviews, even from people from Louisiana and New Orleans.”
Roscoe’s effectiveness in the kitchen earned him the distinction of being a spokes chef for Lowry’s Seasoning Salt in 1996, but the key to making good soul food, Roscoe reminds, has less to do with spices than history.
“It isn’t just because you’re black — it’s the heart and soul you put into the preparation of the food; it’s the love you put into preparation of the food — it comes from the soul,” Roscoe said. “Back in the day, the slaves were given the scraps to eat from the hog of the pig; they were given pig’s feet to nourish on; the rib bones while slave owners had the choice pieces of meat. The slaves were left to nourish themselves from the scraps; they’d use the innards, the chitlins, the hooves, every part of the cow. From the roots of Africa came a lot of seasoning and flor, and that’s what they put into the scraps that ultimately became soul food. They sang and danced and ate soul food.”
It was a history not lost of Kaine, as he broke into a pitch-perfect rendition of the 1995 hip hop hit ‘Soul Food’ by The Goodie Mob.
‘Come and get yo' soul food, well well
Good old-fashioned soul food, all right
Everythang is for free
As good as it can be
Come and get some soul food’