218 Forbes Ave., Downtown
I don't eat much meat. But occasionally a carnivorous craving sends me to George Aiken's.
Market Square's old-school cafeteria has welcomed customers of all stripes for decades. It opens at 7 a.m. for breakfast and serves until 6 p.m. A typical lunch-hour finds a polite if slightly anxious muddle of customers milling about along one side of the bank of steam tables.
Many of these folks don't know that at George Aiken's, there are no lines -- merely the indulgence of your fellow eaters to let you approach the stainless-steel counter to place your order.
On the distant end of that counter are cold sandwich fixings, slaw and such. In the middle, hot sides, from baked beans to veggies. Under the heat lamps, piles of crispy fried chicken and fish; in the deep-fryers, more of the same, bubbling away.
But Aiken's calling card is ensconced just inside its plate-glass Forbes Avenue window. There, a mechanical rotisserie the size of a shower stall slowly spins whole, spitted chickens over an open gas flame, their skin crisping.
It's straight fat and protein, man. Sometimes I'll eat a half rotisserie chicken. If I'm getting fancy, I'll dress the hemi-bird in the hot sauce that sits within reach of each of the cafeteria's 50 chairs.
A primal, deep-seated satiation ensues -- followed by appreciation for the digestive benefits of the walk back to the office.
Recently, out of journalistic obligation to sample a couple sides, I ordered a leg-and-thigh platter ($6.75): green beans boiled limp, plus a satisfying mac and cheese. Aiken's also offers grilled sandwiches, freshly made milkshakes and more.
The late George Aiken once owned 10 such "shoppes" citywide. The Downtown one is the last. In September 2005, the Urban Redevelopment Authority bought the building and announced that Aiken's had no more than five years before the Fifth and Forbes "redevelopment" plan kicked in.
Meanwhile, a sign in the rotisserie window on dug-up Forbes announces "Open During Construction." Indeed, Aiken's has kept going during the months-long renovation of Market Square, too.
This year marks both the 60th anniversary of establishments founded by George Aiken ... and the fifth of the Downtown shop's URA-predicted remaining lifespan. A URA spokesperson says the economy has put "redevelopment" plans for the Fifth-Forbes corridor, including Aiken's, in limbo. Happily, Limbo has kept its rotisserie.