Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Chicken and Waffles x Three - Restaurant Duels

Hello LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers!

I have lived in Florida for nine years and as such, my stomach has declared itself an honorary Southerner.  I remember the first time I ever ate collard greens.  There was a charming restaurant in Safety Harbor, Florida owned and operated by Chef Dawn Algieri named "Lincoln Heights Bistro."  Chef Dawn made reasonably priced, good quality Southern cuisine.  Unfortunately due to changes in the economy and an unfortunate car accident, Chef Dawn could not continue running the restaurant.  I still miss meals with friends at Lincoln Heights Bistro, but my love of Southern cuisine endures.   

Two of my favorite Southern-style dishes are shrimp and grits and chicken and waffles.  I recently had the pleasure of having chicken and waffles three times in a week and a half.  (Which is also why I am dieting this week!)  

In my 20's (I am now 900 years old), I lived for a couple years in Los Angeles.  Hollywood, California near the corner of Hollywood Blvd and La Brea, to be exact.  Also home of Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles.  In my young, dumb 20's, I thought fried chicken and waffles sounded bizarre and I never tried them.  Oh the ignorance of youth.  I can't remember the first time I had chicken and waffles, but I can remember the worst chicken and waffles I have ever eaten.  (That story is worthy of its own blog post, so I won't discuss it now!)

This blog post is about chicken and waffles from three different restaurants - Pies 'N Thighs in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City; Brooklyn Diner's Times Square NYC location and Fire Bar and Grill here in Tampa, Florida.  (If you'd like to read more about Pies 'N Thighs, check out my banana cream pie blog post here.)

Contestant #1:  Pies 'N Thighs Chicken and Buckwheat Waffles with Cinnamon Butter, Strawberries and Maple Syrup.
Pies 'N Thighs Chicken and Waffles

Pies 'N Thighs is a small, nondescript restaurant on a corner in Williamsburg with no sign other than a handwritten sign on a piece of cardboard in the window pointing to the entrance.  The staff are reed thin, tattooed, skinny-jean wearers with generally happy dispositions.  A bakery case by the register is packed with fat, luscious looking donuts and other pastries.  The menu has Southern-style dishes, fried chicken and of course, pie.

Pies 'N Thighs chicken and waffles were pretty good.  The buckwheat waffles had good flavor, although I would have preferred a more crispy outside and a lighter waffle.  The buckwheat was a bit too dense for my tastes.

The cinnamon butter and strawberries added a nice touch, but I also would have liked a scoop of chipotle or tabasco butter as well to interplay off sweet and savory on the waffles.  The maple syrup was your regular syrup, but it did the trick.

The dish came with two pieces of chicken.  One piece of chicken was absolutely amazing - moist, tender chicken in a crisp, flavorful, crunchy shell.  This chicken eaten with a butter and syrup topped piece of waffle was amazing.  The other piece of chicken was soggy with no flavor and no crispness.  I feel like I got a piece from an old batch and one from a new batch.  Had both pieces of chicken come from the "good" batch, I would have been over the moon for these chicken and waffles.

Overall, it was a good meal.  It could have been better but if you have a chicken and waffles craving this will do the trick!

Contestant #2:  Brooklyn Diner's Stuffed Fried Chicken on a Red Velvet Waffle with Butter and Maple Syrup

After seeing "Orphans" on Broadway starring Alec Baldwin, Ben Foster and the amazingly cute Tom Sturridge, I headed over to one of my favorite midtown restaurants Brooklyn Diner.  (My favorite is the 57th street location, but this time I was at the Times Square location.)  I was craving a big cheeseburger with bacon but when I saw "stuffed fried chicken on a red velvet waffle" on the menu I knew I had to check it out.

Brooklyn Diner Stuffed Fried Chicken on a Red Velvet Waffle

I have never had a red velvet waffle before, but I have had red velvet pancakes from Tampa's local Datz Deli.  I had had high hopes for the red velvet pancakes and was really disappointed - dense, heavy and with no flavor whatsoever.  I could have been eating a heavy pillow as far as my tastebuds were concerned. With that experience in mind, I didn't have high hopes for a red velvet waffle from Brooklyn Diner.  However, my tastebuds were floored - the red velvet waffle from Brooklyn Diner was absolutely incredible.  Crunchy, fluffy with a rich chocolate taste, it was very satisfying.  The waffle must have had a lot of food coloring as it left pools of red on my plate ... and later in my intestines (enough said!)  

It is worth ordering this dish just to enjoy the red velvet waffle.  The stuffed fried chicken - well that's another story.  The chicken seems to be pounded and then a piece of cheese and a piece of what looked like thick deli pastrami was placed on top and the chicken was then breaded - like a cross between chicken schnitzel and chicken cordon bleu.  Unfortunately the chicken here was rubbery - almost like an overcooked pressed chicken nugget.  The breading had no flavor and the cheese and meat added nothing to the meal.  I had a couple bites of the chicken but then stopped eating it.  It wasn't worth the calories!

I would not recommend the chicken, but I would highly recommend the red velvet waffle!

Contestant #3: Fire Bar and Grill's Corn Flake Crusted Fried Chicken on a Jalapeno Corn Bread Waffle with Caramel Sauce, Habanero Sauce and Collard Greens.

Fire Bar and Grill's Corn Flake Crusted Chicken and Waffles

Fire Bar and Grill is a relatively new restaurant in South Tampa.  It has a very popular happy hour and a good location half-way inbetween Downtown Tampa and the Westshore Business District.  I was having brunch with Miss Cindy and as soon as I saw "jalapeno waffle," I knew what I was ordering.

Like Brooklyn Diner, the reason to order this dish is the waffle.  While the jalapeno corn bread waffle was not crispy at all, it was fluffy and creamy - almost a souffle consistency with amazing taste and heat - jalapeno and green onion flavors.

I was skeptical about the caramel sauce, but it really paired nicely with the waffle and the chicken.  However the chicken was completely overcooked and dried out.  The corn flake crust was rock hard.  I was looking for a tableside chain saw to cut through the chicken.  The habanero sauce in the silver cup in the above picture looked like apricot preserves.  I had forgotten it was habanero and dipped a large piece of the dried out chicken into the sauce.  I put it in my mouth and felt the back of my head explode on fire remembering that it was habanero not apricot preserves.  Whoops!  

I think a straight habanero sauce is too much for most people, habanero-apricot or peach preserves would have been a nice blend of heat and sweet and would have accentuated the meal better.

The collard greens were cooked perfectly.  Great texture and color.  I had previously had collard greens at Fire Bar and Grill and they were a salt lick.  These collard greens were slightly too salty, but still edible.

If the chicken had been cooked well with thicker pieces of chicken, this would be a great dish.

The winner in this Restaurant Duel of three Chicken and Waffles dishes is Pies 'N Thighs.  It had the best overall dish of all three.  Plus you can get a great piece of pie afterward!  

However if it were a perfect world, I would combine the fried yard bird from the Red Rooster Restaurant in Harlem and put it on the red velvet waffle from the Brooklyn Diner.  That would be the ultimate chicken and waffles.  

The Red Rooster in Harlem's Fried Yard Bird - Put it on a Waffle and I'd be in Love
Do you have a favorite chicken and waffles restaurant?  Leave a comment below and let me know your recommendations!

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I am sad to admit that I actually have three waffle makers - a square waffle maker, a Hello Kitty waffle maker and a waffle sticks waffle maker.  Once upon a time I also had a Warner Brother Bugs Bunny waffle maker.  I rarely ever make waffles at home, but if there's ever a waffle emergency I will be prepared!

Fire Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon Pies 'N' Thighs on Urbanspoon Brooklyn Diner USA on Urbanspoon