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America's best chicken and waffles

America's best chicken and waffles


It’s a classic brunch dilemma: savory or sweet? Fortunately, the inspired combination of fried chicken piled on top of waffles means there’s no need to choose.

There’s magic in the rich, fatty salt of fried chicken, tempered by the sugar of maple syrup and a crispy waffle. And there’s satisfaction in having breakfast and dinner at once—no matter the time of day. It’s a recipe that has stood the test of time, spread across the nation and gotten only more appetizing.

The classic chicken and waffles we know and love can be traced to the late 1930s, when the Wells Supper Club opened in Harlem. The joint drew Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, and Gladys Knight, often looking to refuel after a show. One of the regulars, Herb Hudson, moved to L.A. and opened the now-legendary Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles.

For a full meal, hit up one of these chicken and waffle restaurants. Some take the classic approach, others skew creative, but all do justice to this satisfying comfort food.

Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, Los Angeles

Mentioned in movies like “Rush Hour” and “Swingers,” Roscoe’s is arguably the most famous place in America to satisfy a chicken and waffles craving. It has grown to six locations, with another set to open in Anaheim, walking distance from Disneyland. The southern-style chicken is delivered three times a week and skillet fried to perfection, while your waffle comes with a side of maple syrup made from natural sugarcane. If it’s your first time, ask for a No. 9—three wings, waffles, potato salad and fries—as President Obama did when he stopped in for lunch in 2011.

(Photo: Dan Dry)

MilkWood, Louisville, Ky.

“When I moved to Kentucky, I was so curious about this dish,” laughs chef/owner Ed Lee. “Is it breakfast? Is it dinner? It makes you cock your head, and it’s certainly a favorite. My only complaint is it’s so heavy.” So at MilkWood, he turned chicken and waffles into an appetizer. It starts with yeast-based waffles, cut into small strips and crisped as croutons. A bed of parsley and dill has a thin smear of buttermilk dressing, and his dark-meat chicken is poached in a stock of vinegar, soy, fish sauce and spices. It’s then dredged in buttermilk and flour and deep-fried.

(Photo: Courtesy of Nana G's)

Nana G’s Food Truck, Atlanta

Nana Grimes, who celebrates her 103rd birthday in 2013, began making waffles for her family in the 1940s. “Times were tight back then, so she would crumble up bacon in them to make them go a little farther,” explains her daughter Paula Hollcroft. “We serve her recipes now, with those same bacon-bit Belgian waffles, topped with fried chicken with her secret blend of spices and a dusting of powdered sugar and maple syrup.” Nana G’s home cooking comes courtesy of a food truck—and they’re adding a second truck to meet the growing demand for her classic cooking.

(Photo: Paul Mehaffey)

Bacon Bros. Public House, Greenville, S.C.

“I serve my Chicken & Waffles with sorghum, as a nod to my upbringing in Macon, Georgia,” says chef Anthony Gray. “It’s more earthy and less sweet.” Gray layers the waffles with thin slices of country ham and fresh sage leaves. His chicken (your choice of white or dark meat) spends 24 hours brining in a sweet tea and buttermilk mixture. “This dish is a special on the menu, about once a week, because we fry every piece of chicken to order in a cast-iron skillet,” he says. “It’s the right way, but it creates a lot of work.”

(Photo: Krista May)

Cowbell, New Orleans

Owner/chef Brack May describes Cowbell as a “funky, upscale truck stop.” Inside the converted gas station, you can sip a Sazerac while perusing the meat-heavy menu. “We do Chicken & Waffle Wednesdays, and it’s big,” he says. “You are not going back to work after this lunch.” Waffles are malted, with an almost caramel-like flavor, while the boneless breast gets a two-hour brine in apple cider, rosemary, maple, garlic and peppercorns. The seal-the-deal flavor comes from the pork-sausage gravy—and the side of collards, sourced from neighborhood farms, braised by Brack in local cane vinegar.

(Photo: Jenny Adams)

Steuben’s, Denver

Despite being mile-high, there’s a down-home essence at Steuben’s, from the old diner décor to the super-friendly staff. And chicken and waffles don’t get more classic than chef Brandon Biederman’s version. The meat is brined in buttermilk and seasoning for a day, then dredged in seasoned flour and fried to order. The waffles are traditional Belgian, served with a red-eye gravy made from Jim Beam bourbon, coffee, and bacon. Afterward, waddle next door to sister restaurant Ace, with plenty of Ping-Pong tables.

(Photo: Early Bird Diner)

Early Bird Diner, Charleston, S.C.

In annual City Paper polls, Early Bird regularly wins Best Chicken and Waffles—and general manager Daniel Infinger verifies that they sell the most in town. The secret is in the double breading. “We use a ground pecan and flour breading,” he says, “so there’s a nutty crust on the chicken.” A hint of cinnamon flavors the Belgian waffle batter, while on top of the chicken, there’s a honey mustard sauce. “Last Sunday, we fed 480 people and 170 ordered our chicken and waffles. I’d say people love them, all right,” says Infinger.

(Photo: Courtesy of Neighborhood Restaurant Group)

Birch & Barley, Washington, D.C.

In anticipation of the Sunday rush, chef Kyle Bailey preps his yeast-based waffle batter the night before. Located below ChurchKey—one of D.C.’s hottest craft-brew pubs—Birch & Barley takes a farm-to-table approach. Bailey tops his waffles with boneless chicken thighs that he sources from FreeBird farms up in Pennsylvania. Each is double drenched and deep-fried. The signature touch is a proprietary blend of maple syrup and warm chicken jus, and for the finish, he sprinkles buttered pecans on top.

(Photo: Mike A.)

Amy Ruth’s, New York City

At Amy Ruth’s, menu items are named for legendary Harlem residents as well as regulars. So, rather than ordering chicken and waffles, you’ll request a “Rev. Al Sharpton,” your choice of fried or smothered chicken, with white or dark meat, on top of a crispy waffle, with a side of thick brown gravy seasoned with a hint of oregano and maple syrup—truck-delivered from Vermont by the same man who taps the trees. It’s the sides and small touches that make Amy Ruth’s a heavyweight contender in the world’s most famous neighborhood for chicken and waffles. Choices include mac-and-cheese, braised collards, and, to wash it all down, a big cup of classic Kool-Aid.

(Photo: Courtesy of Watt's Grocery)

Watts Grocery, Durham, N.C.

While you will find tons of southern classics on the menu—including deep-fried chicken gizzards as a late-night bar snack—Watts likes its chicken and waffles to be more savory than sweet. A crispy cornmeal waffle, peppered with chives and parsley in the batter, holds up a hefty piece of fried breast meat. Chef Amy Tornquist’s syrup is made from a combination of sorghum and chicken stock, and the whole dish gets a finish of Tabasco aioli for an acidic kick of spice. It’s a unique recipe that keeps guests clamoring for more.

See All of America’s Best Chicken and Waffles


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