Here it is, the food experience y’all have been waiting to hear about…
Gladys Knight’s Chicken + Waffle House
Because none of us knew what to expect with our experience, we all conjured up our own ideas as to what it was going to look like inside this Hot Atlanta Food Spot. I thought I’d see some sort of diner-like interior with greasy booths and an angry waitstaff, or an open kitchen line where you’d have only three things to choose from, give your order, pay and then end up with a number to come pick up your tray of fixins. The rest had ideas of imaging a chain-like restaurant feel, down to a hot spot that would serve us beers with every chicken piece we had.
And, because none of us had ever had ‘Chicken and Waffles’, there were many questions also prior to our arrival that had to do with eating this southern concoction:
1. Was the ‘waffle’ like a waffle that you had for breakfast or was it like a potato-like pancake of sorts? Was it like a french fry kind of waffle?
2. How were you supposed to eat your ‘waffle’? Does the ‘waffle’ act as blanket to coddle your chicken? And, would there be the typical ‘waffle-like’ condiments on the table if it were like a breakfast waffle (IE: syrup, butter)?
3. What kind of chicken comes with your ‘waffle’? Breasts, legs, thighs, pieces?
4. And if it was a typical breakfast-like ‘waffle’, would ya look like a person who didn’t know what they were doin’ if you asked for Syrup?
I know, sounds silly…but if you’ve never had Chicken and Waffles, these are all pretty normal questions, wouldn’t ya say?
As we pulled up to the downtown Atlanta staple, the neon sign reading: Gladys Knight and Ron Winan’s Chicken & Waffles, hung high above the street. It seemed iconic and one could certainly imagine seeing it from blocks away in the late midnight hours when the restaurant was still open on a Friday or Saturday night at 4 a.m. As hot as it was, still at about 97 degrees +, we were all surprised to see this famous waffle and wing joint over-flowing with people on a mid-afternoon Monday. When we walked in, the place was crawlin’. And the interior, was pretty much nothing like we all imagined. No angry waitstaff, no line for food, no cash register to ring in your order and no pitchers of beer. Instead, had the feel of a very nice Denny’s. Lined with dark wooded walls and big leather booths, framed pics of famous people that had eaten there hung on the wall, and as I looked around… everyone, I mean everyone, was eating chicken.
Turns out, the wait for our traditional southern viddles was short-lived. We were in our sticky syrup drenched booth in no time. The menu fit the standards of a Denny’s, with laminated pages of southern food plates and pictures to match them. The choices of food ranged from black-eyed peas, mac n cheese, collard greens, catfish, salmon to the most famous plate of all ~ The Midnight Train. And when it came time for ordering, it was almost like a scene from The Blues Brothers…’We’ll take four Midnight Trains!’
And there it was ~ a fat ass plate of four crispy chicken thighs, and a big ole waffle (yep, like a breakfast waffle) right in the midst of it all. With a heap of syrup already on your table, you were expected to slather it up with melted butter, pour on the goo and eat it all up just like you would breakfast. Our sides included: mac n cheese, lima beans, grits and collard greens. And to drink, because they didn’t serve beer or any other alcoholic beverages, sweet teas all around.
And the taste, as our friend Tim would say it, “Tastes so good, make ya wanna slap your momma!” Pretty darn good for my first Chicken + Waffles experience and one worth any trip to Hotlanta to try it.
While the sweet tea seemed to be, as we all agreed, the best drink to pair to this ‘heart stoppin’ plate of goodness- the first question before our arrival was, “So what kind of wine would you pair to Chicken and Waffles, Leslee?” With each bite of my drippin’ waffle and my crispy chicken wing crunched together into perfect bites, I thought of the syrupy sweetness and the salty crunch of my plate. The butter from grits managed to sink right through its gooey mess and the syrup was not to be reckoned with dripping off my chicken and right down the center of my shirt.
I give this plate a couple of pairing ideas… The fried chicken deserves anything bubbly. Because ‘fried’ and ‘bubbles’ always goes together, I would have chosen perhaps a Blanc de Blanc of sorts, a bubbly that is made with only Chardonnay grapes. The rich Chardonnay center and the creaminess of the buttery grits and mac n cheese along with the fried chicken, yum…a match made in heaven. Yet, I thought about the syrupy goodness of the waffle in front of me. Riesling would have been good with the right amount of sweetness, even a fat rich Pint Gris from Alsace loaded with honeysuckle and honey jar would have been good. But there was only one wine that I couldn’t quite escape. The Chateau Reynella McLaren Vale Old Cave Tawny Port, made entirely from Grenache grapes, is one of those wines that I always think about when I smell syrup. It’s sort of ‘breakfast wine’ I suppose. Good enough for pancakes, waffles, sausage and even a cup of joe. And with this afternoon’s lunch…I think, a pretty darn good pairing. This port is not one that is overbearingly sweet, and because its made from Grenache grapes grown in Australia, it seems to carry just the right amount of sugar and toast from its barrel aging to match any plate of breakfast food.
In the end, a beer wouldn’t have been a bad idea either, but if you’re thinkin’ wine with this fine cuisine, keep it balanced with ALL those goodies on the plate. Here’s to my new found love for Chicken and Waffles, and a belly ache to prove I was there!