For North Carolinians, Bojangles’ Fried Chicken and Biscuits is a kind of secular church, its branches sprinkled across the state. Unlike a subpar chicken chain we might name, it’s open on Sundays, and—after service lets out on Sunday morning, whole groups arrive by minivan, delicately prying chicken bones apart with their hands, still wearing their bright hats and matching pumps. Many of us say the name of the chain’s signature sweet snack, the Bo-Berry biscuit, like Humbert Humbert would have: bo. ber. ry. Its texture falls between cake and paradise.
I am a fourteenth-generation North Carolinian. My first relative came from Scotland in 1630. Bojangles was founded in Charlotte in 1977. Growing up in Raleigh, I didn’t define myself as terribly Southern, roots notwithstanding—I was Jewish in a community where a daily prayer circle gathered every morning at the flagpole in front of my high school, a non-pork-eater in a state where barbecue is a vegetable. Bo’s, as everyone calls it, felt like a marker of a sort of Southern WASP-y preppiness, where cheerleaders and track stars hung out after school in Archie Comics-style tableaus. In the morning, somehow, it was more democratic. The breakfast rush had finished, but the jock crowd hadn’t arrived yet. The smell of blueberry mixed with the cayenne-paprika blend ready to be sprinkled on top of thick-cut fries. Despite the saccharine sweetness of the icing, the Bo-Berry always had a savory feel to it—the heft of the biscuit made it feel like a proper meal, maybe even a fruity sandwich. You need two hands and all your teeth to eat it.
A Bo-Berry biscuit isn’t just a blueberry muffin with better branding. It’s a soft, melty blueberry delivery system for people who prefer the sturdy body of a muffin to its inelegant top. Its cousin and intellectual forebear is another North Carolina invention, the Krispy Kreme donut. Any North Carolinian instinctually understands that the difference between a dessert and a breakfast food is the glaze, the sticky topcoat whose shine is best brought out by morning light. That’s what makes a cupcake a dessert food and a Bo-Berry biscuit a breakfast one. They’re both sweet to the point of a toothache, but only one is socially acceptable at eight in the morning.
A proper Southern food will either make you want to brush your teeth or floss them. Ribs, pulled pork, and corn fall into the latter category, along with Bojangles’s signature chicken. Sweet tea (at Bo’s, simply “tea,” because unsweetened iced tea is something only a Yankee would come up with), Krispy Kremes, and Bo-Berrys all belong, of course, to the former. The further I get from home, the more Southern I am, and the smell of my North Carolina is the smell of chicken skin and biscuit dough.
Although truckloads of ink have been devoted to puzzling out exactly where the line between the North and the South is, I know exactly where my own personal Mason-Dixon is: the food court of Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, home of the northernmost Bojangle’s location in America. When traveling there for work, I time my train to arrive before the restaurant closes at 11. It was there that I learned the two most important rules of Bo-Berry ordering: when the cheerful young woman behind the counter asks you if you’d like more icing on that Bo-Berry biscuit, ma’am, say yes. And then, order another one for tomorrow.