Fried chicken and waffles are like that couple you just don’t get. They are so different: one is a morning person, the other, not so much. One is all about the carbs, the other a decided carnivore. You keep waiting for them to break up, and yet they keep popping up together all over town, bringing smiles as the salty-sweet comfort-food duo that is here to stay.
They are decidedly and unapologetically American. If fried chicken could talk, it would say, “How y’all doin’?” Waffle would pour you an iced tea and call you “hon.” South of the border, their love story takes on mythical proportions. Some say their roots are Pennsylvania Dutch, others claim the Deep South; the most romantic is that they first met in a soul food restaurant in 1930s’ Harlem.
Here in Ottawa, the pair appear mostly at brunch — at the extreme end of the menu continuum (opposite kale and kombucha smoothies). The fried-chicken-and-waffle couple welcome you with a smile and a hug, ready to cure what may be ailing you from the night before or to help you carb up before a long run in the afternoon. Or maybe, because fried chicken and waffles do not judge — they are simply there for you — ready to make you feel fat and happy and to send you off for an epic Sunday-afternoon nap.
At Sutherland on Beechwood, chicken and waffles are faithful to their Southern roots: a waffle with a sprinkling of icing sugar and a dose of maple syrup, fried chicken thighs with a touch of hot sauce and chicken gravy on the side. A “just the facts, ma’am” interpretation of the classic that’s available only at brunch.
Union 613 in Centretown ventures into unorthodox territory. A slice of iceberg and pickled tomato insulate the chicken from the unsweetened buttermilk waffle. The chicken itself is “confit”— that is, cooked in its own fat and shaped into a patty before being deep-fried. On top is a fried egg — because that’s what fried eggs do these days: hang out on top of something else, waiting to be instagrammed. (It’s a trend-on-trend approach.) The chef wisely understands that anyone who likes fried chicken and waffles will happily welcome a pile of crispy golden home fries on the side, turning the comfort-food duo into a threesome. In for a carb, in for a pound — if not several. Home-made condiments are a nice touch: a smoky ketchup for the home fries and, for the chicken and waffles, a flask of maple syrup with red pepper flakes suspended in it: a perfect spicy punch.
At Pressed on Gladstone, the menu announces that brunch is a binary universe of Waffles and Not a Waffle. When it comes to chicken and waffles, their New South offers chicken fritters in a light batter, topped with a smear of sriracha. A fruit compote on the side of the waffle hints at health — just hints, mind you — and joins the maple syrup for sweetness.
Bowman’s Bar and Grill on Carling make chicken and waffles a main, venturing into savoury territory. The chicken thighs are marinated in buttermilk and topped with slices of raw jalapeno. Waffles are corn-based, with a hint of smoked cheddar. Any sweetness is at your command, thanks to the maple syrup. A crunchy non-mayo coleslaw adds a cleansing mouthful to chase the savoury, salty, and sweet.
If you are a gluten-free person who has had to pass on the fried-chicken-and-waffle trend, check out Ola Cocina in Vanier. There, you’ll also have a chance to try a version of the Southern classic that goes way south: into Mexico. Here, the waffle is corn. Everything gets lots of interesting heat from chipotle maple syrup. Additions such as candied bacon, black beans, enchilada sauce, pickled red onion, crema, corn pico, and guacamole make every mouthful an adventure.
Fried chicken and waffles may have come to town as a trendy visitor, but they now have permanent-resident status in Ottawa restaurants. You can love them just as they are or enjoy the creativity of kitchens across the city that are making this American classic one of our own. Either way, for those still judging, it’s time to get to know fried chicken and waffles. They may seem like an odd couple, but to know them is to love them.