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I say, "Chicken & Waffles!" You say, "What?!"
That's the usual response I get when I mention what is one of the more unusual food pairings to come along in recent years. Viewed by some merely as a passing food fad, the combination of crispy fried chicken alongside a sweet, syrupy waffle, has taken the comfort-food world by storm and is a phenomenon that's obviously here to stay.
So what's the big deal? Fried chicken is fried chicken and waffles are waffles, right?
Well, right. But as I happily discovered years ago, when I ate my first oyster loaf, foods that are generally eaten alone actually taste different when eaten in combination with something else. An oyster loaf (also called a po' boy) is really nothing more than a half dozen or so fried oysters nestled between two toasted slices of a buttered French roll, with or without mayonnaise. Now I absolutely love bread and butter, and I'm particularly fond of fried oysters. But when I eat the two together the experience is truly different; nothing less than sublime. So what's the big deal?
The big deal for us is Chicago's Home of Chicken and Waffles II, which found its home in Oak Park last December at Madison Street and East Avenue. Tonya Johnson, owner and a former Oak Parker, moved away when she met and married her husband, Darnell. Together, in March of 2008, they opened Chicago's Home of Chicken and Waffles I, located at 39th Street and King Drive in Chicago. Two and a half successful years later Tonya realized her dream of returning to Oak Park, only this time she did it with a restaurant.
This is Southern comfort food, soul food at its best, provided by food lovers and served by a well-trained and knowledgeable wait staff in an upscale dining room. It's different — in a pleasing way — from other soul food restaurants, which normally serve their food cafeteria style.
If waffles aren't your thing, no problem. There are plenty of other choices. Chicken, of course, reigns supreme, and you can have it your way, light or dark, fried gizzards or livers, with a choice of three side dishes, such as macaroni & cheese, collard greens, yams, red beans & rice, rice & gravy, or really great homemade potato salad (it's made with sweet pickles). The fried chicken can also be smothered in gravy with or without onions. And then there's the catfish, farm raised, fried or grilled.
Chicago's Home of Chicken and Waffles II opens at 7 a.m., seven days a week, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. No reservations. All of the menu items are available all day. Interestingly, turkey bacon or turkey sausage is served in place of pork. Waffles can be upgraded to buckwheat or pecan or you might want to try a Windy City Waffle for dessert. It's served with whipped cream with a choice of toppings or you can have a waffle a la mode.
I say, "Chicken & Waffles?!" You'll say, "Yum!"