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“How long till I can get some chicken, homey?” …

Drew Lazor, Philadelphia Daily News

PEOPLE ARE WILLING to wait for James Leggett’s jerk chicken. But that doesn’t mean they’re willing to be patient.

Being seduced by the Caribbean plumes pumping out of Leggett’s drum smoker and not having immediate access to what’s inside, after all, is its own brand of sensory punishment. But Leggett has managed to turn his delivery of the bad news – “It ain’t ready” – into a special brand of song and dance that’s part stand-up act, part stalling tactic and part subtle, scent-aided sales pitch.

“How long till I can get some chicken, homey?” a glassy-eyed young man, clearly enjoying his Friday evening out in Northern Liberties, inquires as he drags himself by Leggett’s humble setup at 2nd and Laurel streets.

“Ten, 15 more minutes,” Leggett, upbeat in a backward camo ballcap and black apron, replies, his wry smile indicating he understands how drunkenness can dramatize a case of the munchies. “It needs some color. It’s 12:08 right now . . . I’d say at least by 12:20.”

The guy shakes his head and wanders off into the night, but the grillmaster’s OK with it. There are close to a dozen more cash-in-hand customers, in various stages of sobriety, hanging out within a few paces, doing what his customers do best.

“It’s like I tell my daughters,” Leggett, a father of four, says to no one in particular. “Count to 300. Twice.”

That’s just one of a million folksy cracks the cook has in his holster to calm the growling stomachs that have been tracking him here since 2010. (Another favorite: “Right now, the chicken’s in Camden, paying the toll.”) Read More