By Betty Ho, Big City Chefs Food Writer
Recently, a friend ask me to list my favorite foods and I rattled off, without thinking, a list of breakfast foods: waffles, pancakes, French toast, steel-cut slow-cooked oatmeal. She raised her eyebrows and concluded, “So breakfast is your favorite meal of the day.” I thought about this and then corrected her, “No, brunch is.”
Breakfast for me, occurs before ten A.M.; anything later classifies as “brunch,” and this is when my need for something savory kicks in. On a normal weekday, I wake up around eight, and have, by nine A.M., breakfasted on a steaming bowl of oatmeal cooked with banana and topped with chopped nuts. This is breakfast. No need for something salty, just slightly sweetened hearty oatmeal and a nice cup of coffee. It is wonderful, necessary, and routine – but in no way does it compare to the riches of a decadent weekend brunch. Brunch normally occurs after nine A.M. and is best eaten in the company of good friends. It is a different affair entirely. I normally still opt for a sweet grain-based dish but am compelled to finagle a friend into ordering something savory.
“We’ll share,” I’ll say, pointing out which omelet sounds good. “That way, we can have both salty and sweet.”
It’s not so much an obsession with balance as it is the very human obsession of wanting it all. And I know I’m not the only one, which explains the popularity of and my personal fixation with the penultimate sweet and salty brunch combination: Chicken and Waffles. Much like Food Network’s popular program, “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” this is my personal food fixation.
I was in high school when I first ate Chicken and Waffles at Roscoe’s in Long Beach, the branch supposedly frequented by Snoop Dogg. I had just gotten my driver’s license and with my friends, all budding foodies, decided to drive down to Long Beach to see what all the fuss was about. It was like love at first sight, followed by love at first bite, and right then and there a life long hunt for chicken and waffles began. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to eat the two together: I love fried chicken (as does my father – this sort of taste is inherited, I believe, though my mother despises the stuff) and I love waffles, but food innovation is not my specialty, which is why I’m sitting here writing about food rather than inventing recipes with staying power. And Chicken and Waffles does have staying power. If, like me, you’re wondering about the history of chicken and waffles, let me direct you to this informative article. The article does not clear up the origin of this heavenly combo as much as it provides hypotheses proving that some great culinary ideas are a combination of histories: attempting to pin them to one single source would be missing the point. This is, I think, the essence of chicken and waffles: to enjoy the savory-sweet dish in front of you without thinking about its roots.
This weekend, I took my hunt to 900 Grayson, a small brunch place in Berkeley, CA that serves a fantastic Chicken and Waffles dish with a fantastic appellation: “Demon Lover.” This dish contains Spicy Buttermilk Fried Fulton Valley Chicken Paillard, a Buttermilk Waffle and Old-Fashioned Cream Gravy or Vermont Maple Syrup. And truly, who can resist?
The sweet Demon Lover (with syrup):
The salty Demon Lover (with gravy):
The Demon Lover Up Close:
900 Grayson Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
P: (510) 704-9900
Next on my Chicken n’ Waffles list:
* Little Skillet in San Francisco
* Home of Chicken and Waffles in Oakland
* Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland (Our friend Chef Tanya Holland used to have a show on Food Network, and also has her own cookbook!)
What are some great chicken and waffle places in your city?