Chicken and waffles have always been a culinary blind spot for me.
As an Asian American from the Pacific Northwest, my foods growing up were steaming bowls of pho, take-out boxes piled with sticky-sweet chicken teriyaki, and occasionally, Claim Jumper’s cheesy potatocakes.
I first learned about chicken and waffles when the dish reached more mainstream popularity in 2011, after then-President Barack Obama made a pit stop at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles in Los Angeles. His order, the number 9, has since been renamed “The Obama Special.”
Marcus Samuelsson, the chef behind legendary comfort food joint Red Rooster in Harlem, New York, traces the origin of chicken and waffles to the Harlem Renaissance. Chicken and waffles became a popular after-show meal for jazz musicians like Fats Waller and Duke Ellington, who often played until after most restaurants closed.
So when luck (and work) brought me to LA, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try chicken and waffles for the first time at America’s most iconic chicken and waffles chain.
I headed to the Roscoe’s location in Hollywood. The host asked me where I was from. When I said New York, he told me that the founder of Roscoe’s, Herb Hudson, was a Harlem native.
I was led inside to the large back dining room, a comfortable space with dim lighting and dark wood paneling.
As a chicken and waffles newbie, I was baffled by the choices on the menu. I considered getting the Obama Special but eventually went with the Scoe’s No. 1, a quarter chicken and two waffles.
I also got some lemonade to sip on while I waited.
So sweet, so tangy, the lemonade was packed with flavour.
I’m not sure if it was all that fresh-squeezed, though.
Maybe it was all the sugar, but I was starting to feel really, really good about being at Roscoe’s.
I was thrilled to spot a bottle of Red Rooster hot sauce among the condiments — a dash of Harlem on every table.
Soon, my food arrived.
It smelled like toasty butter, chicken fat, and hot, sticky syrup.
But I was a chicken and waffles noob. How was I supposed to eat what was on my plate?
Which would I eat first?
I decided I’d try them both separately first, then combine the two.
I doused my waffle in hot syrup and scraped a bit of butter into sweetened squares.
These waffles were a miracle. Every millimetre of the crust was hot and crispy, but the syrup-soaked interior was soft and melty. There was also an unexpected savoury tang that gave each bite extra depth.
The chicken was just like the waffles: I broke through its thin, crispy exterior to reveal a meaty interior that was dripping with fat and flavour.
You can choose white meat, dark meat, or a combination. I chose both.
And yet, even though the chicken was far from dry, it wasn’t greasy at all. It was perfect.
Now that both chicken and waffle were certified delicious, it was time to put the two together.
This bite was everything I ever dreamed chicken and waffles would be. The hot, sweet syrup bonded the tender waffle with the fatty chicken meat and crispy skin.
It turns out the secret to really good chicken and waffles is simply really, really good fried chicken.
And really good waffles.
But just a quarter way through my meal, I was already starting to fill up. This was the kind of meal you eat if you don’t plan on eating anything else all day.
I’m no waffle expert, but I spent the entire meal trying to figure out what the secret ingredient in the waffles was.
I suspect it might be chicken fat. Something told me those waffles were not vegetarian-friendly.
Not that I was complaining. I like my chicken with more chicken, please.
The bill for my meal before tax and tip was $US18.48.
I asked for a takeaway container and left a hefty tip.
Despite Roscoe’s gilded name and presidential fame, my meal was a humble — and humbling — experience. It’s the kind of place you take the whole family on a sleepy Sunday morning or the kind of place you meet up with friends after school.