As eternally grateful as we all must be to the ACC for making sure Pitt didn't lose the grim musical chairs that was the conference realignment (hi, Down The Drive), there's one major problem about the new gang that's gonna stick around for years to come. The Big East was our conference. Maybe it was more Georgetown's and Syracuse's and Providence's and St. John's than ours, but it was also ours. The ACC belongs to the state of North Carolina. The football championship has been in Charlotte for six years straight; no one wrestles; and the conference HQ and basketball tournament is (usually) in Greensboro.1 Even ignoring all that, though, the Carolinatude™ of it all still overwhelms during the broadcast of nearly every Pitt game from the past few years.
The worst part of ACC tv coverage is Bojangles ads. I want a damn chicken biscuit! #pitt— David Singleton (@pitt83) December 24, 2015
Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits (sp) is a chain based in Charlotte that makes the official fried chicken, biscuit, and sweet tea of the ACC - and it is indeed ACC as hell. I could drive that point home by discussing how they're a true corporate champion and how their brand really encapsulates the principles and values of the conference, or I could just do a YouTube search of "ACC bojangles." Sure enough, there was an old video of a Blogger So Dear guy comparing basketball teams to Bojangles' side dishes:
That about sums it up, I think.
SB Nation Blogger #336-743 over here shot this video at one of the over six hundred Bojan'gles'ses around the South. This number shocked me, as I hope it shocked you, because you'd think you'd have seen one of those anywhere nearby.
The nearest Bojangl'es, depending on your driving proclivities, is either in Southern West Virginia or Maryland.2 The ads had sold me on the joys of Bo'jangles long ago, certainly, but there's no way I'm going to drive that far for anything (this is one reason I didn't bother with the bowl game). If only there was an easier way...
@N_THEYSTAYTHERE naw. Just go somewhere that has a layover in the Charlotte airport.— Justin Reese (@justinxreese) December 24, 2015
Arriving in Charlotte, I was greeted by stacks upon stacks of UNC and Duke merchandise, and also half a row of NC State shot glasses to keep the proletariat from complaining.
You can see from the above that there were also items from other ACC schools like Clemson or South Carolina available, but at first glance no Pitt stuff. Oh, wait - what's that tucked away in the corner there - is that a Roc The Panther plush doll?
You know what? It's Panthers, I'm counting it.
If you're one of the people who remember that the ACC has four schools from North Carolina, congratulations! In lieu of available merchandise, Wake Forest got this nice graphic about continuing education:
Hey, good for you, Wake Forest! You go!
A quick note on the ambiance of the Bojangles' kiosk at CLT before we get to the main event of the evening:
Because it is an airport, there is a television on mute playing CNN near the line for chicken. Because Bojangles' hates its employees, there is a minute-long spoken audio clip about how good Bojangles' is for the whole family playing on repeat on the overhead speaker at all times. Because it took me some time to figure out the source of the noise, there were sixty seconds of my life when I thought Donald Trump just happened to be giving a speech on Bojangles' the same day I traveled to one. Because of that, I briefly believed in destiny.
I tried to get video of this, and it didn't come out right, and I'm so sorry. Sometimes, there is just no capturing that magic.
Onto the food, then.
It could best be described as brooooooooown.
Now, the Admiral's Feast from Red Lobster is still the most beige thing in the history of mankind and all, but at least that was all fried. This is in a way much more impressive because it took four different paths to get to brown.
I chew gum on airplanes, and from my days as a sommelier I knew that doing so was going to wreck my palate a bit during the meal. But luckily, my days as a sommelier made me excellent at describing the taste of things in general. Let's break it down!
Sweet Tea. Notes of water, vanilla, and tea resonate through a not overly sweet opening. Steely and greatly lacking a full body yet silky-smooth and round, allegedly "freshly steeped" but otherwise indistinguishable from the stuff you get from a steel drum at a Jimmy John's. Definitely a recent vintage, the tea hasn't had time to develop complex flavors. This is good, because tea probably doesn't age like wine.
Cajun Chicken Biscuit. "Cajun" is the only way they make chicken, and there definitely was a flavor other than "fried," which was a plus. Stronger coating than Chik Fil A on the chicken, and in contrast to the ironclad laws of sandwich-making the chicken was what provided the crunch instead of the soft biscuit. Chicken to biscuit ratio was dope. I had eaten a Dunkin Donuts chicken biscuit earlier as a control, and it was certainly better than that. However: Salty as all hell and coated every surface it touched with an indelible layer of grease. The biscuit did its best but eventually crumbled (as biscuits do), leaving me with a slippery pile of chicken and crumbs to lick off the wrapper like an animal. Had an aftertaste of saaaaaaaaaaaaalt. It was as salty as a thing that is very salty.
Dirty Rice. Think "store brand jambalaya mix, with sausage" and you're basically there. I can abide by putting a Louisiana twist on a Carolina food, but this is straight-up Creole and thus cultural appropriation. Needless to say, once this article is published I'm mailing it to the police.
Sweet Potato Pie. Definitely the first time I had seen sweet potato pie at a place like this. Turned out to be a McDonald's-style Pie Sleeve of crust filled with an orange paste, which wasn't surprising. The crust was actually really nice, pleasantly buttery, and relatively flaky (unlike the aforementioned McDonald's pie crust, which is always disconcertingly chewy) but also totally fell apart halfway through the consumption process because, well, flaky. They probably could've sold it as pumpkin pie and I wouldn't have noticed anything different.
Country Ham Biscuit. For post-dessert, I got a ham biscuit. This was dumb. This was so, so very dumb. My palate should have been dead by now, but everything about this seemed saltier than anything else I had ever encountered, especially the biscuit. The ham was fatty to the point that it had a straight-up Hunk Of Fat dangling off of it. This is not something I have ever seen at a fast food joint before, and I hope to never see again. This time, the biscuit pretty much completely fell apart on me (lesson learned: every biscuit is a unique snowflake), and the grease got even more everywhere. Ultimately regrettable, which actually made it the most Pitt thing I've eaten in 2016 so far.
Reflecting on my time at Bojangle's', I had one minor revelation. Restaurants with an "and" in the title typically secretly favor one of the two options - for example, that Bar & Grille is mostly a bar. At Bojangles', though, biscuits and chicken get equal footing. There were something like a dozen variants of "[thing] in a biscuit" on the menu, including a blueberry biscuit for dessert. Upon even further meditation, I realized hat putting only a single apostrophe on the supposed "and" as they do means it's actually probably the word "in." So in Good American English, which I speak affluently, the restaurant is Bojangles' Famous Chicken In Biscuits. This is a fairly good summary of their product, unlike Steak In Shake.5
How ACC was this meal? Let me ask you this: how Six Flags is an Anatomic Global mattress? In the sense it was Very Duke or Quite UNC, or even Pretty Damn NC State or Satisfyingly Wake Forest, it was a very ACC meal.6 But it's not like I eating Boja'ngles chicken in biscuit filled me with confidence in Clemson's championship prospects, or made me appreciate Tony Bennett's defensive savanting more. You know what would've done that, though? A gallon jug of apple cider vinegar and $10 worth of food from Cook-Out, enjoyed with a Syracuse fan telling me how much better Dinosaur is.
I remember a while back reading about how Pittsburgh was a "crossroads" city, one that sat at the intersection of the Midwest, the Northeast, and the South. The first two, we all agree with, surely! The South, though? I never even really considered West Virginia to be a "southern" state, so putting Pittsburgh in that region seemed like a grasp for graspy-straws. Perhaps, though, Pitt's ACC membership tips us over the edge. This isn't to say that Boston is suddenly in the region, or Louisville wasn't before last year, but perhaps we were close enough before that now, with the help of our Bojan'gles-eating comrades, we can truly become a city at the juncture.
And hey, no matter where you are in the world, there's always a little bit of the 412 waiting in the condiment station ready to add that special little bit of flair to your
no nOno NO NO NO NO NO
forget EVERYTHING I SAId
WE'RE GOING INDEPENDENT
1. That's got to help the NC teams more than you think, man. Consider: if the tournament was at Consol one year, people would make the trip for basketball and touristy reasons. What if the games were in Erie, though? Or Johnstown?
Also: where the hell is Greensboro? ↩
2. There's one in Pennsylvania, yeah. It's in Reading. This may be close to where you live, student-reader types, and maybe I could've told y'all about this one before you came back from break. Sorry! Here's an idea: maybe don't rely on me to tell you about your own damn neighborhood like I'm your neighbor. Maybe look up from your phone once in a while and experience life. Maybe stop checking your "iPhone" and start using your "eyes" to actually see the world for a change. ↩
3. Lucky timing? Infinite finances? Am I manipulating the facts? Is @justinxreese in on the conspiracy that is @N_THEYSTAYTHERE? Isn't Spilly supposed to be the food guy for this site (SB Nation at large, not just Cardiac Hill)? Where was I coming from? Where was I going? Did I just book a round trip flight to Charlotte for this? Do I live in Charlotte? Am I just using the airport a smokescreen? ↩
5. Most of the good local examples go in a different direction too. Eat'n Park's name doesn't mean "Eat and Park," it's "Eatin Park," like a park you eat in, or "Eaton Park." Quaker Steak & Lube actually uses "and," but as a restaurant is mostly about quakes. ↩
6. To elaborate further, it was Moderately Clemson, Fairly Georgia Tech, Weirdly LSU, and, appropriately, Not Too Maryland At All. ↩