Some food combinations just make sense. Cereal and milk. Popcorn and butter. Cheese and burger.
Then there are the unexpected combinations that for one reason or another catch on in a big way. Take, for example, chicken and waffles. It’s about as logical of a pairing as steak and pancakes, and yet it works. Soaking up syrup with fried chicken and chicken grease with waffles satisfies a man’s inner glutton in a way few dinnertime diversions can.
It’s the kind of meal that calls for a good burp and toothpick, perhaps even a loosening of the belt.
So where does this delectable delicacy originate?
The short answer is no one knows. The long answer is that dish was probably first cooked up by transplanted black southerners, and that it was popularized in Harlem clubs and Roscoe’s in L.A. In truth, it’s as southern of a dish as fajitas are traditional Mexican cuisine. Call chicken and waffles authentic southern cuisine and Georgia threatens to secede again.
Detroit, like most majority black cities, has its own chicken and waffle joints. The most prominently located is probably New Center Eatery, a cozy little brick establishment across the street from the gargantuan, Art Deco Fisher building. Look for the old school painted sign on the side and you’ll know you’ve reached your destination.
You order up at the counter and wait for your food in the sparsely furnished, thoroughly modern dining room, painted a neutral shade of yellow with big wide tables and lights that hang from the ceiling. Though the pop machine is in plain sight and easily within reach, the server handles any drink refills.
Of course, what’s of utmost importance is the chicken and waffles, and for about $9, New Center Eatery’s offering ain’t half bad. The meat is fried, moist and fresh and slides right off the bone, and the waffle is the perfect specimen of a waffle, fluffy and light to the touch. The kitchen does it right, even serving the waffles up with strawberry butter.
No complaints here. Just remember to ask for syrup, and you’ve got a one way ticket to a cellulose-laden heaven.
New Center Eatery actually bookends what might be Woodward Avenue’s liveliest business strip in Detroit, an “avenue of fashion” that caters to the city’s black audience. There’s a pharmacy, a hardware store, a gay bar, a beauty supply shop, and several clothing stores. Throw in the Popeye’s Chicken on the corner and I’m pretty sure you have all the necessities of life in one little eighth of a mile.
Hell, if you moved the strip to Michigan Avenue and put white people in charge, it’d probably be on a TV show by now.