I never ate "chicken and waffles" until a couple of weeks ago. The closest I came was eating chicken hash and waffles during Lent at The Waffle Shop at Calvary Episcopal Church at 102 North Second. Usually, chicken and waffles means fried chicken and waffles.
When I eat the chicken-waffle combination at The Waffle Shop, which opens Thursday and runs during Lent, I put the hash on top of the waffle and pour syrup over the whole thing. I always feel like Walter Cunningham, the little boy in "To Kill a Mockingbird" who pours sorghum molasses all over his dinner to the horror of one of his hosts. I get the same reaction from co-workers.
The fried chicken and waffles concept was another story. It sounded to me like a "rib sandwich" -- ribs on a piece of white bread -- at barbecue restaurants. How do you eat that without breaking your teeth?
All the places I visited serve the fried chicken on the side.
Ty Agee, owner of Miss Polly's Soul City Cafe at 154 Beale, serves a spicy chicken, which he says, "has a little bite to it." They marinate their chicken for 24 hours, he said.
The chicken comes with Belgian waffles, which are made with malt. You also get milk gravy, butter, syrup and a side item. I ordered greens, which were a perfect complement to the chicken and waffles, although I needed a nap after all that food.
"Did you mop up the syrup with the chicken?" asked Jacinda Johnson, who was at the restaurant. "I just wanted to make sure you did it right."
She told me the chicken and waffles are "addictive."
They are. I could eat them every day.
I tried the delicious chicken and waffles at Sweet Grass Next Door at 937 South Cooper. The pecan waffles are served with a deep-fried chicken breast and bourbon maple syrup.
Adam Rimbert, the bartender, taught me a new way to dress up waffles. It might have been an accident, but a customer poured some hot sauce into his syrup, he said. The result was a sweet and spicy syrup, which goes great with chicken and waffles.
Some places only serve chicken and waffles on the weekends.
Owner Karen Blockman Carrier serves a wonderful feast of waffles with savory chunks of pecans in them with her fried chicken during Sunday brunch at the Beauty Shop Restaurant at 966 South Cooper. You also get white gravy, two sunny-side up eggs, butter and syrup.
Alcenia's at 317 North Main offers chicken and waffles on Saturday mornings. Owner/cook B.J. Chester-Tamayo adds her homemade apple butter to the waffle batter, which she makes with buttermilk. The secret to making a great waffle is to beat the egg whites separately: "Make sure no yellow gets into the white part or it won't fluff up," she said. "The fluffier your egg white is, the better, to me, your waffles are going to be."
The chicken and waffles come with tomato gravy, which you can pour over your side item or your waffles.
For something completely different, I tried Lunchbox Eats' take on chicken and waffles. This is one you can eat like a sandwich. It's their Homeroom Chicken & Grids -- two cheddar waffles sandwiching chicken tenders topped with muenster cheese. It comes with whole-grain honey mustard or green tomato relish.
Kaia Brewer, chef and one of the owners of Lunchbox Eats, located at 288 South Fourth, came up with that version of chicken and waffles as an hors d'oeuvre when she was a chef at Doubletree Hotel. The hors d'oeuvres, which, of course, were small, had the cheese as well as the relish and the honey mustard. Customers at Lunchbox Eats have their choice of the relish or mustard, but I asked for both as well as syrup. I ate every bite.
"It's one of our best sellers," Brewer said. They will separate the chicken and the waffles if the customer wants to eat them that way.
I like the idea of the hors d'oeuvres, too. Apparently, I'm not alone; one of Brewer's customers asked whether she could make chicken and waffles for a party this weekend. So, she's making 412 of her hors d'oeuvres.
Michael Donahue: (901) 529-2797; email@example.com