Chewing on chicken and waffles at Union Bistro

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The wonderful union of chicken and waffles may not be a new concept in this nation, but it certainly seems to have made a resurgence in the last few years. Restaurants across that nation have added this seemingly unusual dish to their menus. Diners everywhere are intrigued by the idea of combining two items that may not, at first, seem to play well together. But once tasted, all doubts of incongruence are immediately vanquished from the naysayer’s mind. I have to admit, I go completely gaga for this stuff. I’ve seen it prepared a number of ways, with each restaurant adding their personal spin on this sultry combination of sweet, savory, and salty. The chicken, generally fried, may come boneless or bone-in, the waffles all variety of thickness and size, often with the entire dish smothered in warm maple syrup and a slab of melted butter. Personally, one of my favorite renditions adds a scoop of thick, peppered gravy, providing a whole new level of rich, creamy flavor to an already fantastic combination.

I’ve found a number of variations springing up on menus at restaurants around central Arkansas, and I would love to see more in the future. Of those I’ve sampled, one that deserves some recognition is the version dished up at Union Bistro in Little Rock’s Riverdale neighborhood. Union Bistro’s menu is a nice mix of classic American dishes, including sandwiches, salads, pastas, burgers, steaks, and fish. One of the more interesting menu options diners have at Union is to forgo the larger entrée-sized plates and order up a variety of the smaller tapas-style dishes that make up around a third of the restaurants menu. Here you will find dishes such as crispy fried pot stickers, black bean hummus with pita chips, blue corn prawn dogs with mango habeñero ketchup, and roast duck quesadillas. While it’s painstakingly difficult to settle on a reasonable number of dishes, as you’ll likely want to order half the menu, do not overlook their fine take on chicken and waffles.

Clearly these guys know their way around a waffle iron. The twin set of mini waffles come stacked like pillows on a feather bed. The thick, golden-brown waffles achieve the perfect blend of crispy and crunchy exterior, with hot and tender inside. The honey-comb-like pockets of the waffles are deep, able to soak up a healthy amount of hot maple syrup and creamy melted butter within each crevasse. A few strips of boneless, panko-crusted, fried chicken lay around the dish, each juicy, tender piece swimming in the maple syrup run-off from the accompanying waffles. It’s a successful exercise in contrasting flavor profiles and textures. While a small dish, it delivers mammoth-sized flavor.

Enjoying tapas with a group of friends or co-workers can be a wonderful way to sample a number of dishes and still allows everyone in the party to choose something they best feel will suit their tastes at the moment. However, it does carry the inherent risk that there will be a particular item of which everyone will want to grab the lion’s share. Best do yourself and your companions a favor and order more than one helping of chicken and waffles while at Union Bistro. It’s definitely a dish everyone will want to wrap their lips around, and a tiny taste or two simply won’t do with this one.

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