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National Waffle Week:
No reason to waffle over chicken and waffles

 

Chicken and waffles at Birch River Grill in Arlington Heights.

Chicken and waffles at Birch River Grill in Arlington Heights.

Do you like waffles? It’s National Waffle Week!

What’s your favorite waffle topping? Maple syrup? Fruit? Whipped cream?

Step beyond your waffle comfort zone with Chef John Ayaleanos’ savory waffle creations at Birch River Grill in Arlington Heights. Through end of the week Ayaleanos offers wild game chili over a cornmeal Belgium waffle ($9) and, all through September (in honor of National Chicken Month), fried chicken atop a sweet-potato waffle ($13).

Chicken and waffles may sound odd, but it’s actually a classic American dish. Food historians haven’t pinpointed its precise origins — some say it has Amish roots; others attribute it to African Americans — but it seems to have been fairly common in the early 20th century, particularly in the East and Southeast, where it was often served at farm dinners and roadhouses.

I’ve found at least a dozen references to it in novels of that period, such as “K” by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1915): “I’ve got a little farm about seven miles from the city limits, and the tenant on it says that nearly every Sunday somebody motors out from town and wants a chicken-and-waffle supper.”

At some point, the dish became a fixture in New York’s Harlem neighborhood, served at restaurants like Wells, opened in 1938. Herb Hudson, a Pennsylvania native who later lived in New York, brought the dish to contemporary national notice at Roscoe’s House of Chicken ’n Waffles in Hollywood, Calif., opened in 1976 and now famed in song and story.

The pairing was rarely seen in Chicago, though, until Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles opened in Bronzeville in 2008.

The combination of crisp, delicate waffle and succulent hot chicken is surprisingly seductive. Don’t knock it till you try it.