Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Amy Ruth's: My Secret Truth about Chicken and Waffles
Having been to Sylvia's back in 2008, I was determined to try Amy Ruth's to compare the two. Javier, aka Teenage/Glutster, was in town and tired of being told to try the ramen. Instead, we met up in Harlem for some Southern cooking.
Soul food, a term typically describing cuisine associated with African Americans, developed in the 1960s. Much of its origins has roots in slave cooking, a combination of African techniques and ingredients and traditional throwaway foods of Southern plantations. As a result, much of the ingredients are untraditional and cheap, such as lard, chitterlings, pig's feet, collards, kale, and other offal. Since the food at the time needed to be calorically dense to sustain hard labor, soul food is commonly high in fat and sugar. This has led to some modern revision of traditional recipes with leaner meats and unsaturated oils. Personally, I'd rather keep the fatty hog jowls and lard and just cut back on the frequency of my soul food ventures.
When I glanced at the Amy Ruth's menu, I realized my embarrassing secret. Having lived in LA for five years, I had never gone to Roscoe's for chicken and waffles. I couldn't take it. For years I've had waffles and chicken, but never together. Even when the dining hall had instituted chicken and waffle night, I avoided the two combined. It seemed unnatural to me to combine them. I always had a natural aversion to eating breakfast foods outside of breakfast time, and I'd never eat fried chicken in the morning. To me, chicken and waffles would be like a tiger and lion fight. It would be interesting to see, but it would never happen because of the different habitats. Well here, at Amy Ruth's, I couldn't take it anymore. I had to make a stand here and get the fried chicken atop a crispy waffle.
We started with cornbread that would've been leaps better if it had been fresh or recently reheated. It's tough for me to eat cornbread before a big meal though. I like my cornbread with a tab of butter and a drizzle of honey. While great as a snack, the sweetness would deter my appetite. The cornbread at Amy Ruth's was good, but nothing special.
Javier was a tad more adventurous than me on the entree front. We shared his salmon croquettes with a side of steamed okra and collared greens. The croquette surprised me. I was expecting more of a crab cake, but got something more like a chicken nugget instead. Steamed okra, as you can imagine, was gooey and lacked much texture beyond slimy. I would've preferred it fried. The collards though, they were amazing. Stewed in what must have been smoked or salted meats broth, they carried a deep meaty flavor. If parents can't get their kids to eat their greens, just make them taste like green fatback.
My plate came out. Here was the moment. But what was I supposed to do, pour the syrup on the chicken too? Luckily Javier saw the confused look on my face and told me to pour a little syrup on the chicken and try it first. I took cut off a piece of the fried chicken thigh. Nicely fried, not too heavy that you taste the grease, but still flavorful. But it was the moment I put the forkful of waffle into my mouth that I knew what Amy Ruth's was famous for. Their waffles was delicious, simply the best waffles I've ever had. As Javier described, you could taste the intricacies of the batter and the cratered syrup made me smile with satisfaction. I had way too much to eat for lunch. A side of coleslaw pushed me over the edge. If I came back, I'd stick to the waffles in hopes of living a little longer by avoiding the fried chicken.
113 W. 116th St. (cross: Lennox)
Harlem, NY 10026
The Rev. Al Sharpton (Chicken and waffles) $9.75