Saturday, March 13, 2010

Which Came First?

The chicken or the waffle?

And how did the marriage of chicken (usually fried) and waffles as a meal begin?

One school traces the combo back to the 1790’s when Thomas Jefferson brought the first waffle iron to the United States from France. Some historians believe the dish goes back to the late 19th century when African-Americans from the south began to migrate north.

I’ve frequently heard (on the Food and/or Travel Channels) that it began with a restaurant named the Wells Supper Club in Harlem (1938-1999) whose slogan was "Wells: Home of Chicken and Waffles, Since 1938." It is commonly believed that the Wells Supper Club started selling the chicken and waffles dish to late-night patrons of their club in 1938 "as it was too late for dinner and too early for breakfast.”

Larry "Lo-Lo" White began his culinary career as a busboy at his grandmother’s Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Café in Phoenix and later prepared chicken and waffles after hours to earn extra money. Lo-Lo opened his own restaurant in the summer of 2002 in downtown Phoenix, and it quickly became a sensation. Soon Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles was seating customers from around the world in addition to their loyal Phoenix area diners and providing catering service for the likes of the Arizona Cardinals, Angie Stone, Mary J. Blige, Anthony Hamilton, The Whispers, Snoop Dogg, Allen Iverson, Steve Francis and members of the Chicago Cubs. In 2009, Lo-Lo opened the second Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles restaurant in south Scottsdale.

Lo-Lo’s had been on our “Must Eat There” list during our last Phoenix visit. Since we never got there, rectifying the oversight—and soon—was the plan. So we wandered into the Scottsdale location at 11:20 one morning. Was this breakfast or was this lunch? It was both and it was delicious.

I had expected an order-at-the-counter-and-find-a-seat kind of place. I was wrong. We were greeted by the hostess and shown to our seats in the spacious and very large and airy dining room. The décor was a variation on industrial chic with exposed ductwork and shades on the ceiling lights made from galvanized buckets. A B.B. King video was playing on the television near a wall that was covered with autographs of professional athletes and entertainers.

The menu lists nine permutations of chicken and waffles along with: waffles with eggs and grits; salmon croquettes with cheesy eggs, grits, and toast; a four egg chicken and cheese omelet; and chorizo and eggs with warm tortillas. Lo-Lo’s Famous Soul Food Platter includes three pieces of chicken (Southern fried or smothered in gravy) or two pieces of catfish or a twelve to fifteen-ounce fillet of cod with two sides and cornbread. The “Backwoods” is an order of fried chicken gizzards with rice and smothered with gravy and onions. (We’re not talking health food here, folks.)

And there is long list of sides (mac and cheese, beans and rice, smothered potatoes, fries, home fries, red beans, cheese grits, candy sweets, fried okra, and more) and “add ons” (single pieces of chicken and fish, gravy, cornbread, and cheese). But, to my disappointment, there was no side order of gizzards! I haven’t had gizzards since we left the Midwest, but I didn’t want the full order with rice and gravy. So a revision in my meal plan was in order.

For Chuck it was easy, it would be the Lo-Lo--three pieces of chicken (breast, thigh, and wing) with two waffles.

I finally decided to order one fried breast, one piece of cod, an order of fries, and a small cup of Chyna’s honey-hot sauce.

Let’s start with the waffles. These were good but not great. I would never go to Lo-Lo’s just for waffles, but the eight-inch across circles were light and thin and, when topped with the maple syrup and real – I repeat, real—butter, made a sweet contrast to the savory chicken.

My corn meal-coated cod resembled a small burrito and was delicious. The fish had been dipped in a spicy red sauce before being covered with the crisp, non-greasy coating. When I cut through the coating, a waft of steam arose, and through the steam I could see a fillet of moist, flaky fish. The somewhat thick, but not heavy, coating served as a vapor barrier, protecting the cod from overcooking, thereby retaining all of its mild flavor.

Now for the chicken. And what chicken it was. The crust seemed to be ninety percent mildly spicy seasonings and only ten percent flour and it soaked up virtually no fat. Because of the thin coating, the chicken skin came into almost direct contact with the hot oil and became potato-chip crisp. The moist chicken meat was flavored throughout by the seasonings in the coating. This was almost guilt-free fried chicken.

So guilt free that dessert was in order, and we shared a slice of “Sandy Sand’s Red Velvet Cake." Red velvet cake is flavored with cocoa and the red comes from the generous use of red food coloring. Traditionally, it is covered with a white icing to provide a stark color contrast between icing and cake. This version was pure dessert heaven. The ultra light and moist cake provided the perfect instrument for moving the rich cream cheese icing from plate to mouth.

At Lo-Lo’s, we got so much more than we expected and give the restaurant 4.5 out of 5.0 Addies.

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