My research takes the famous Chicken and Waffle phenomenon back to 1930's Harlem to Wells Supper Club billed as "Home of Chicken and Waffles Since 1938." They claim to be the first to sell the dish during the Jazz Age, when late-night diners would order breakfast or dinner to soak up the evening's alcohol, and get them safely on their way home.
Nearly 40 years later, Harlem native Herb Hudson migrated to Hollywood, California and started what would become a soul food institution. In an area that lacked restaurant choices, Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles was born.
Chicken and Waffles is exactly what it sounds like. A large crispy waffle served with a side of butter, or butter-like substances, and syrup. Oh, and the fried chicken. Strapping selections of moist, tender yard-bird whose greasiness can be soaked up by the waffle. And if syrup is sloshed onto your chicken, you are all the better.
The famous chicken house now has five locations across the greater Los Angeles area, and according to Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller fame, when he was once approached by actor Lou Diamond in at a Roscoe's, Diamond told him, "They have a 'one celebrity at a time' rule here, so I'm leaving. But eat up, because in 45 minutes Kiefer Sutherland will be here." Diamond shook Jillette's hand and walked out.
Regardless of the celebrity quotient at Roscoe's, the fact remains that the Chicken and Waffle movement has been set ablaze, transcending all lines of restaurant fare and social classes in the perpetual search for comfort food.
For today's Toque to Toque battle, I gained a few pounds wading through many establishments which held themselves out as greatest chicken venues in Dallas. I sampled Chicken and Waffles across the city to bring together two opponents that are not only worthy, but chomping at the bit for victory.
Enter Big Mama's Chicken and Waffles vs. Victor Tango's--combatants in the Fried Chicken and Waffle Fracas.
On the cool, rainy early evening when I ambled into Victor Tango's, I was relieved to find that there was not the usual long wait for tables. I was early enough that I found a cozy seat at the bar and rejected a menu for a single order: C&W. That, and a Knob Creek on the rocks.
I had just taken in several extremely bad orders of C&Ws and was ready for some relief. Word on the street is that Victor Tango's version would set me straight.
No sooner had I taken a few sips of my small-batch whiskey did my order arrive. Steaming, fragrant, and oozing in chicken-y goodness, I gazed in all its glory.
Most often when ordering C&Ws you will get a Styrofoam container with a waffle and a few pieces of chicken. This was different. Mounted atop many slices of fresh waffles sat the freshest chunks of white meat chicken, drizzled with a decadent pancetta cream gravy, and served with a side of a sweet maple syrup.
There was no question as to how long the chicken had been sitting around--the answer could be calculated in seconds. I sampled the succulent meat that I later learned had been marinated in buttermilk for 24 hours. This loving treatment lent to the dish a familiar though unexpected made-at-home goodness.
Victor Tango's sous chef assured me that they sell many orders of C&Ws, and it seemed to be a favorite that made their guests smile. After a few bites, I headed for Forest and Audelia, across from the new Aldi's grocery, and home to Big Mama's Chicken and Waffles.
I had never been to Big Mama's, but had heard scuttlebutt about the legendary chicken house. I was assured by sources that this is what soul food should be. The chicken would remind me of home, and the waffles were handmade with each order.
Excited, I parked and approached the walk-up window to place my order. I waited a few minutes for my chicken to arrive as the line cook was cranking out my waffle. The chicken was served from a large bin of pre-made pieces, but they seemed busy enough that I was assured that the chicken would be fresh.
I ate my meal on the ledge that circled the building and was impressed by the home look and feel of the chicken. But as I bit into both the wing and the thigh, I noticed a lack of juiciness. The crust was saturated in grease, as if the traps had not been cleaned or changed in some time.
I was disappointed with Mama's and wanted to have a conversation with her.
Seems Mama was not to be found. Instead the next morning, I spoke with April Porter one of the granddaughters of the chicken Mecca who assured me that Big Mamas sells hundreds of orders of Chicken and Waffles each day and "they have sought to serve the best chicken in North Dallas for the past eight years."
April went on to say, "People know what they want when they come to Big Mama's, it is like home for many." Perhaps I was at Big Mama's on the wrong day. Maybe Lou Diamond Philips beat me to the good stuff.
As for the Chicken and Waffle Fracas, we award Victor Tango's the win for their bright and original take on the now classic dish. Pancetta gravy, crisp, fresh waffles, and tender chicken may not always be all it takes for the perfect Chicken and Waffles, but in this battle, it's a decisive win.
3001 N Henderson Ave, Dallas
Big Mama's Chicken and Waffles
9810 Forest Lane, Dallas