Brunch is a vague and indefinite practice, suspended restlessly between two more traditionally established mealtimes, and what dish better reflects this ambiguity than chicken and waffles? Sweet and savory, neither entirely breakfast nor lunch, the meal marks an almost psychedelic blurring of food categories, an imprecision that extends to its complicated heritage. Though clearly rooted on the soul food spectrum, the combo was popularized in 1920s Harlem and later L.A., leading food writer John T. Edge, in an interview with NPR, to call it "a Southern dish once or twice removed from the South." But as folks in Little Rock know, chicken and waffles have come home.
BOULEVARD BREAD CO.
I can highly recommend the chicken and waffles at Boulevard Bread in the Heights, but it's going to take some strategy and patience on your part. I first found them here by accident, a Sunday special scribbled on a whiteboard off to the side of the regular menu. I was shocked when they asked how I liked my egg — a very unorthodox supplement to a delicate formula — but in retrospect I endorse it. Fair warning: The waffle was a little thin; but I don't know, some people prefer that. Hot sauce was served on the side for dipping and spreading, an intelligent and compassionate move on their part; key to the success of the whole thing.
GUS'S WORLD FAMOUS
Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken dives right into the middle of one of the more polarizing debates in the chicken and waffle community, namely: bones or boneless? At Gus's, you decide. On your table, if you come here for brunch one Sunday, you'll find a small yellow menu with very few and very important options: You can have your waffle alongside two pieces of white meat, two pieces of dark meat, or three tenders. This stumped me; I figured there was no real right answer. Because I love Gus's chicken during the week, and because tenders seem like a cop-out, I went with white meat. It turns out that there is a right answer, however, and it is boneless. I spent the meal arduously disassembling a chicken breast. Great waffle.
One other Sunday morning, I was shivering in the parking lot of a strip mall on Rodney Parham, looking for breakfast and not finding it, when a friend rescued me by pulling me into a dim sum restaurant called Lilly's. In the mornings, part of it serves as the diner B-Side, an important battleground in the chicken and waffle renaissance, though the only sign indicating this was written in Sharpie on printer paper. Not that it matters — the place was packed. The chicken was loosely breaded and flaky, the waffle crisp and extensive. The portions were generous, so much so that it seemed perverse to serve them on such small plates. It was a constant struggle not to spill the meal in my lap, but that seems like nitpicking. This place is the real thing.
On Sundays, you can find the Waffle Wagon outside Stone's Throw Brewing, at Ninth and Rock streets, but I sought it out on a Tuesday and found it, sort of ironically, at the state Department of Health office. A particpant in the food truck festival last October, the Wagon is actually more of a nondescript trailer, but make no mistake, they do important work here. Their menu varies, but $10 chicken and waffles seems to be a staple, and so what if it's served in a box. We can't always sit around leisurely for an hour on plush leather booths drinking mimosas — some of us have to keep moving, to get out into the world. Enter the Waffle Wagon. They don't serve hot sauce on the side here, they lather it on boldly and unapologetically. Their credit card reader wasn't working when I showed up, so they asked me to just write down my card number and leave it with them. Normally that would seem like a red flag, but I trust these guys. And you should, too.