Chicken & waffles is an unexpected dish. The ages-old “neither fish nor fowl” metaphor might apply here, except for the fact that fowl is, in fact, involved — usually fried, then set atop a spacious waffle, ready to be devoured. It’s a meal that has a long history in American cuisine. And its appeal is pretty clear: Travis Grimes, the executive chef at Charleston’s Husk, notes that “chicken & waffles has everything you could want in a single dish. Crunch, salt, sweet, and savory.” It’s also versatile: on some restaurants, you’ll find it listed as a dinner entrée; for others, it falls soundly in the category of brunch. Chad Anderson, executive chef of Atlanta’s Oak Steakhouse, is an advocate for the latter, favoring “lunch time when your palate is still ‘waking up’ and may appreciate some sweet food along with the savory.”
The ideal time to consume chicken & waffles may also depend on the restaurant’s approach to them. While the traditional blend of fried chicken and a waffle (perhaps with syrup nearby) is hard to beat, there are also plenty of variations that have cropped up across the country. The version served for brunch at New York’s Melba’s, for instance, are Southern Fried Chicken & Eggnog Waffles — upping the ante on the savory elements even further. For his version, Grimes makes some subtle changes to the recipe. “I also add charred scallions and cayenne pepper to a normal sweet waffle batter,” he said via email. He’ll also “mix some hot sauce into bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup.”
The fifteen spots that follow each offer their own unique take on chicken & waffles. Some accentuate the traditional version with outstanding cocktail selections; others take the expected recipe in bold directions.