Monday, October 26, 2009

Which Came First, the Chicken or the Waffle?

And where and when did they come together?

Did it happen in Harlem? Was it brought from The South? And what about the Pennsylvania Dutch? Did African Americans and German Americans have the same brilliant idea, unbeknownst to each other? That's my guess, perhaps because I want hold on to the Harlem nightlife angle, which has great appeal. The story goes that Wells Supper Club popularized the dish, even if they didn't invent it. Fried chicken and waffles, which Wells started serving in 1938, became a hit with patrons who flocked to the restaurant in the wee hours, after shows at the Savoy, the Apollo and countless other venues now long-forgotten. A late dinner? An early breakfast? Why not kill two birds with one dish?

But chicken and waffles really took off in the seventies, when Harlemite Herb Hudson brought the beloved dish to Hollywood and opened Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles. Here was a place that not only served the dish, it specialized in it. The restaurant's popularity with black celebrities gave it a major boost, and gave the dish a higher profile. Other restaurants and chains specializing in the combo followed.

Chicken and waffles is an irresistible combination, as far as I'm concerned, but somehow I had never gotten around to trying it. There are a number of places in Harlem that serve the dish today, but Amy Ruth's is reputed to be the best, so that's where I went for my first taste. My verdict? The waffles at Amy Ruth's are fantastic, fabulously fluffy and buttermilky, but I was disappointed with the fried chicken. The meat was on the dry side and the breading was rather bland. I had a taste of the smothered chicken (which one can also order atop a waffle), and that was somewhat better. The macaroni and cheese was too dense for my taste, but the collard greens, cooked with smoked ham hock, I believe, were fabulous. Prices are reasonable and service is cordial. Too bad the fried chicken isn't better.

Amy Ruth's
113 W. 116th St. (near Lenox)


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