Just Add Syrup
Chicken and waffles may be the one dish that bridges the gap between breakfast and dinner. According to culinary historian John T. Edge, chicken and waffles was created by enslaved Africans who paired thin and crispy waffles made using rice-flour batter with fried chicken and preserves. The modern-day version of the dish first showed up in the 1930s at Well’s Super Club in Harlem, and it later made its way to Roscoe’s in California in the 1970s.
Today, chicken and waffles is a staple in the Lowcountry, where chefs are putting unique spins on the classic dish — we even found a vegan version. Whether you’re new to chicken and waffles or looking for the next spot to try it out, the City Paper has you covered with five different preparations of this local favorite.
James Beard Award-winning chef and Big Bad Breakfast founder John Currence called the chicken and waffles at his Meeting Street restaurant — one of eight locations across the South — a “complete journalistic disappointment.” But you can’t beat a classic, right? Currence based his recipe on the one served at Roscoe’s back in the 1970s.
“As I understood it, they served both fried chicken and waffles separately, and the two dishes eventually migrated together. We are little more than shameless followers of that cult of taste,” Currence said. “It was not a dish that was on our original menu, but we made really good fried chicken. We’re using a family waffle recipe that was leavened with egg whites, so they were exceptionally light and crispy. We use a warm blend of corn syrup and molasses, so eventually we just decided to fall in line with the fad.”
At 60 Bull Cafe, executive chef Joel Vetsch adds an unexpected spice to his chicken and waffles.
“We make a fresh batch of waffle batter every Saturday morning for brunch and hand-batter and deep fry the chicken to order,” Vetsch said. “[It’s] topped with house-made curry-candied pecans and diced Granny Smith apples and a blend of equal parts local honey and sriracha.”
The savory batter and hint of curry set 60 Bull’s chicken and waffles apart from sweeter takes on the dish, Vetsch said.
“When I came up with the dish, I had been trying a lot of sweet chicken and waffles around town,” he said. “[I] was trying to lean ours to the more savory side while also incorporating the sweetness, and voila!”
Fast-casual fried chicken destination Boxcar Betty’s, which has locations in West Ashley, Mount Pleasant and North Charleston, serves chicken and waffles sandwich-style. OK, so there’s no actual waffle, but Boxcar Betty’s “Chicken Not So Waffle” delivers on all the flavors you’d expect from the dish, with bacon jam, maple syrup and pimento cheese joining fried or grilled chicken inside a buttery bun.
West Ashley’s Early Bird Diner has been known for its chicken and waffles since Guy Fieri stopped by the Savannah Highway eatery for an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. According to Fieri, “the savory, sweet, crunchy and salty” sensations from the chicken and waffles “seem so wrong, but are just so right.”
The almost-famous chicken and waffles really are different from anything you’ll find in the Lowcountry. Crispy pecan-crusted chicken rests on top of a cinnamon-spiced waffle, and both are doused with a generous helping of honey mustard barbecue sauce and maple syrup. It’s salty, sweet, crunchy perfection.
Oh, and want to know the best part? Chicken and waffles are listed on the breakfast menu, available all-day, six days a week — whenever Early Bird is open.
Don’t worry — we didn’t forget our vegan City Paper readers. Vined The Vegan Experience owner Christian Keith swaps chicken for cauliflower “vings” at her new North Charleston restaurant.
“I make the waffles from scratch, and of course we use our vings, which is our rendition of a boneless chicken wing, but we use cauliflower,” Keith said. “Instead of dipping it in the sauce, we just season it to resemble a chicken, and we pair it with the waffle.”
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