Roost Lake Trout

Yesterday’s Zippy:


Three things: the location of this scene; lake trout; and what “happens” in the strip.

Where are we? Especially in its second panel, #1 looks like yet another Zippy “diner strip” (for a list of diner postings on this blog, most of them from Zippysee here). The truth is a bit more complex than that. But the model for the establishment is easy to find, given its very specific name, Roost Lake Trout:


From the Panoramio photo site, this 3/22/09 comment by avagara:

The Roost started out in 1974 as a Burger Chef restaurant, which was once the second-largest hamburger chain in the US, and retains much of the original lines of the old store and its sign. The franchise owner Doris Williams changed over to selling lake trout in 1978, as the Burger Chef chain declined. Ms. Williams has passed on, but the restaurant continues with its soul food specialties in several locations, including Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

(The original location is apparently gone now, turned into a parking lot.)

On 9/29/10, avagara added:

The New York Times reported on the local popularity of Baltimore lake trout, which isn’t really trout and doesn’t come from a lake. This restaurant was mentioned in the article.

This brings us to lake trout. A local Baltimore specialty, though the fish is far from local to Baltimore. From the 9/29/10 NYT piece, “A Fried Favorite in Baltimore” by John T. Edge:

Lake trout, prepaid cellphones, discount cigarettes: Drive on Baltimore Street West, away from downtown, and the hand-painted signs plastered to building flanks beckon. Fried chicken, lake trout, checks cashed: The awnings on take-aways here advertise that trifecta.

Korean-owned fast food spots here sell lake trout. So do Greek-owned souvlaki houses. Chinese restaurants deliver egg rolls, egg foo young and free-form sandwiches of fried lake trout, rolled into tinfoil packages that resemble, at least in heft, Cal-Mex burritos.

Hip Hop Fish and Chicken, a franchise on Reisterstown Road, sells trout. So does Chicken Express and Caribbean Cuisine on North Charles Street, where the menu features curried goat, fried plantains and boneless lake trout, tucked between slices of coco bread.

The crab cake, fat with pearlescent lumps and spiced with Old Bay, is the dish that middle-class Baltimore heralds and middle-class tourists seek.

Lake trout — rolled in cracker meal or cornmeal, fried hard in roiling oil and served with a pile of cottony white bread and a sluice of vinegary hot sauce — is the dish that working-class Baltimore craves, tucked into a brown paper bag and eaten on the go.

… Prod a Baltimore fishmonger like [K. C. Barnett, the counter woman at Cross Street Seafood on Federal Hill], and she will say that lake trout is actually whiting. Query the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and you learn that the fish known colloquially in the Northeast as whiting is actually silver hake, an oceangoing bottom-dweller. (A local variation called oyster trout is red hake.)

Commercial fishermen trawl for abundant whiting off the Atlantic coast, from North Carolina to Newfoundland, Canada. The sweet fine-grained fish [but with lots of little bones] is sold along the Eastern Seaboard and in the Midwest.

In Philadelphia, whiting is sometimes known as mountain trout. In St. Louis, Louisville, Ky., and elsewhere, it is called jack salmon.

… Ivy Anderson, a retired steelworker, talked of bone-strafed lake trout… “When I was a boy, my mother and I would walk to the Belair Market,” he said, standing in line for a bag of lake trout at the Roost, a fry house set in what had once been a Burger Chef. “She let me pick out my own fish. And they’d fry it on the spot.”

Finally, what “happens” in the strip. Thanks to Will Eisner in Comics and Sequential Art (1985), and following him to Scott McCloud in the influential Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1993), it’s now commonplace to think of comics as sequential art, the visual presentation of stories unfolding in time. (Eisner is also responsible for popularizing the term graphic novel, in his 1978 book A Contract with God.) One of the surrealistic features of many Zippy strips (#1 included), especially those taking place in diners and the like, is that they depict conversations between two characters, and those conversations unfold in time over the panels of the strips, but they don’t go anywhere; they merely end. In an important sense, nothing happens. (Some conversations between Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot, and between the title characters in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, are like this, though in those works some events do happen.)

(Sometimes there’s no passage of time at all. Consider, for example, the “cat substitution” Zippy, #1 in my 9/23 posting here, with four static panels, each one a snapshot about one Dingburger, presumably at the same time.)

One Response to “Roost Lake Trout”

  1. john v burke Says:

    A bit of dialog in “The Wire” compares “lake trout” to the New York soda fountain specialty, the “egg cream;” “no egg, no c ream, no lake, no trout.”

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