(Almost) all-night waffles
The Original House of Chicken & Waffles1537 Howe Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95825
Waffles were one of those food items to which I didn’t give much thought until I had a toddler. One day I was in the frozen-foods aisle and thought, huh, maybe my kid would like waffles, and threw a box in my cart. Little did I know that waffles would become an obsession on par with raisins, bananas and the Great Oatmeal Love Affair of ’06.
Once I realized the depth of my child’s love for all things waffle, I knew a visit to the Original House of Chicken & Waffles, near Howe and Arden, was in order. I confess that I’ve heard tell of the fried chicken-waffle combination, but had never experienced it for myself. But, hey, I like fried chicken and my child loves waffles, so it seemed preordained. The restaurant stays open until 3 a.m. on weekends, but we showed up at the more sedate hour of 5 p.m., when we had the place not quite but almost to ourselves.
It’s a neat, fairly understated space, with shiny tables and the most welcoming, friendly server greeting us that I could have imagined. She was genuinely enthusiastic about the fare and our daughter, if a little prone to forgetting orders and not being quite sure what was on hand in the kitchen. (In her defense, she mentioned to another server that she had been there until 3 a.m. the previous night and then had turned up for work at 10 a.m. that morning. I’d be a little scattered, too.)
The menu bears the amusing logo of a heavyset, blinged-out cartoon chicken on the front, and inside you’ll find every variant on fried chicken and starch that you can imagine. You can also get egg combos and a full variety of typical soul-food sides: corn bread, red beans and rice, mac and cheese, biscuits and so on. And, of course, there are about 10 ways to get chicken and waffles in various permutations. Chicken—various cuts and fractions of the bird (wings, halves, quarters, white meat, dark meat)—can also come with grits or a biscuit, or both, or so-called waffle fries. I say so-called because my husband ordered them in his dinner—the City Boy, which featured three fried wings and the fries—and there was nothing waffle-like about them. They were wedge fries, seasoned and sort of battered, and fairly indifferent.
They were one of the few items that didn’t seem like it was made from scratch. The waffles most certainly are, as our server proudly told us and as their fresh, distinctive taste confirmed. All told, we ended up with three waffles: one on my daughter’s kid’s plate, which consisted of one fried chicken wing, one waffle and one side; and two on my plate of “smothered chicken,” with peppery, oniony white gravy. The gravy was thick but not pasty, and the dark-meat chicken was tender and juicy, cooked just right so the meat slipped from the bone, with savory skin.
The classic chicken-and-waffles pairing is the plain fried chicken and waffles, with syrup for dousing both, but I wanted to taste the gravy. I’m glad I did. I am not a huge syrup fan and I regret to say that the syrup on offer with my waffles did not taste like real maple. (I also harbor dark suspicions about the “butter.”)
But the waffles were absolutely the real deal. Small of indentation (these aren’t Belgian-style) and crisp at the edges, they were light yet not insubstantial in the center and a uniform pale golden color. They had a strong savor of nutmeg, which was a little unusual but very pleasing.
As you might imagine, my daughter went absolutely wild for them. She threw back her head and screamed “Waffles!” Then she laughed and ate nearly a whole one, plus some of her chicken and quite a bit of her red beans and rice. I found the latter a little bland, and the plain white rice mushy (the beans were good), but I loved finishing up her fried chicken wing. The coating was perfectly crisp and not at all greasy, spiced up with black pepper, and very tasty: fried chicken done very well.
In addition to the food, the restaurant offers a number of types of beer, a few not-very-enticing wines and fountain drinks. I was more interested in the desserts: banana pudding, pound cake and rum cake. The server said they were all made from scratch, and confessed that she made the banana pudding—a dessert I haven’t had since I lived in close proximity to the South. We took an order to go. It was extraordinarily sweet, but the pudding was indeed homemade (I found a tiny lump of cornstarch), and the texture was just right, as was the balance of bananas to crushed Nilla Wafers.
You won’t be surprised to hear that it was a hit with the toddler set in my home, but by no means did it replace waffles in her affections, nor in mine. If you have yet to partake of the chicken-and-waffle phenom, or if you too have a waffle obsessive in your home, Original House of Chicken & Waffles may be just the place for you.