Roosevelt Scott stands behind the grill at Scott's Original Food Stand and orchestrates the madness. Sisters, children, nieces, and nephews call out orders in no obviously organized way, and Roosevelt executes, occasionally pointing at someone and demanding clarification. In seven years of serving me weekly, they've never missed my order (breakfast sandwich with Canadian bacon). It might happen, but I've never seen it.
"There's kind of like a thread of family that runs through the whole market," says Roosevelt's sister and co-owner, Jannie Scott Thornton. And if there's a thread of family, Scott's, collectively, is Momma, feeding pretty much everybody. At 4 a.m. on Saturday, the Scotts are there feeding the vendors, and so it goes. Some stalls are occupied only Saturdays, some Saturdays and Thursdays. Scott's is open whenever the market is open. People gotta eat.
Jannie and Roosevelt have serious stature at the market, and they're rightly proud of it. It wasn't always that way. They're two of eight children of a South Carolina sharecropping family. One brother came to Rochester for work in the early '50s, and one by one, the other seven and their mother followed (their father couldn't abide Rochester winter). Roosevelt worked at "the Ford place on Lake" for 23 years; Jannie spent 12 years at Kodak before running her own beauty salon for 13.
Why a food stand? Their mother was a great cook, and 12 years ago a customer told Jannie about a market stall coming open. She, Roosevelt, and another sister decided to give it shot. They rented for a year, supposedly with an option to buy. "We were greenhorns," Jannie says. "He charged us an arm and a leg and a neck." The sharecropper's children recognized this scam, and after a year, the owner, predictably, refused to sell.
During that first year, the Scotts say folks weren't encouraging. "People said, 'This is hard work, you won't be here long,'" Jannie explains as Roosevelt laughs. "But we came from the farm. Hard work and honesty is all we knew." The hard work paid off when the stall next door went up for sale. Jannie and Roosevelt bought it, and they've been the most successful food stall at the market ever since.
So why do all of us regulars keep coming back? Regulars are driven by a small set of concerns perfectly addressed. I want that awesome breakfast sandwich served up fast. The key to great sandwiches is great bread, and the Scotts use those great Martusciello Bakery rolls. But Roosevelt has a way with the rest of it: spreading the yolk just right without drying it out, getting the cheese all through the thing. And it comes so steaming hot you can burn your mouth. As the months turn bitter, it's so comforting you could cry.
Scott's also has my favorite local pulled pork, which Roosevelt cooks on Wednesdays. Being from Carolina, the Scotts sauce the pork more sharply than anybody else in this sweet-sauce-crazed town. It's truly pulled, and always tender. Of Roosevelt's chicken, Jannie says, "I taught him how to make it good," which brings another huge laugh from both of them. Whoever taught him did right, because the chicken is tantalizingly moist and tender.
Ribs, plates, sausage, hams, and hots... Scotts has the range you'd expect at a Rochester grill joint, all done well and seriously inexpensive. The meat sauce is slightly hot and slightly sweet, not oily at all and edible by itself (it's their mom's recipe from home, and let's not think too hard about what that implies about the myths of the origins of "Rochester sauce").
The food is good and consistent, the service fast, friendly, and colorful. But the true appeal of Scott's is more than that, or something else entirely. It goes back to Jannie Scott Thornton's comment about the thread of family. When you eat at Scott's, you feel a part of that, like you're in on something along with the other hundreds of customers, something special and uniquely all of ours. And you are.
Scott's II (aka Scott's Original Food Stand), Rochester Public Market (near the Railroad Street entrance). Hours: Open Tuesdays at 6 a.m., Thursdays at 5 a.m., and Saturdays at 4 a.m. until the market closes.
Patrik's Culinary Kreations will add a second location in the spring, in the former Ly-Lou's spot on South Avenue. It will be called The Gourmet Plate and serve only dinners. You can find some of Patrik's pastries at the new Boulder Coffee Company (South Clinton and Alexander). Lyjha Wilton opened the coffee shop in July, naming it for the strange boulders in the basement (no connection to Colorado).
--- Michael Warren Thomas
Check www.SavorLife.com for details on Michael's broadcast schedule on WYSL 1040 AM.