The long-time favorite of West Coast stoners and East Coast soul food lovers has crossed into the mainstream.
Chicken and waffles has been gaining steam for a few years, spreading organically from its New York and Los Angeles bases. The culinary mash-up began popping up on stylish brunch menus and as a late-night gastropub offering. It’s had its own controversies, raising questions about cultural sensitivity and cultural appropriation, and has spawned shark-jumping fusions from chicken and waffle food trucks. If you needed any more proof that chicken and waffles has hit the big time, IHOP is now serving the combination at 1,500 locations.
Northern Europe meets southern United States. Breakfast meets dinner. Sweet meets savory.
Who do we thank [or blame] for this uneasy marriage? Some food historians see a link to Pennsylvania Dutch traditions. Others point to the confluence of black cooks and the nation’s first waffle iron, when that implement was imported by the notorious slave-holder Thomas Jefferson.
Whatever the origins, the dish was first popularized in 1930’s Harlem at the Wells Supper Club. An after-hours gathering place for Jazz Age club-goers, the Wells legend tells us that the combination was a happy compromise—it was too late for dinner and too early for breakfast, so both meals were served on a single plate. The dish hit the west coast in the 1970’s, where it was equally well-suited to the midnight rambles of the local youth culture.
With maple syrup; really?
It can baffle the uninitiated: is it two dishes sitting side-by-side or should it be eaten as a single entity? How about butter? Gravy? Hot sauce? Syrup?
Yes to all.
Crunchy, juicy, spicy, crispy, fluffy, sweet, and salty, plus a hit of sticky maple—it’s a heck of a forkful.
History professor Frederick Douglass Opie is our foremost chicken and waffles authority. His podcast for American Public Media’s The Splendid Table traces the dish’s history, and he shares more history, culture, and recipes at his blog Hog and Hominy: Culture, Cooking, Travel, and Traditions.