Some foods are delectable on their own, but should never be combined. Ice cream and pizza are a prime example of this. Both fantastic when eaten solo, but a soggy, dairy mess if mixed together.
Sometimes, however, you think two foods shouldn’t be good together, but it turns out, they’re fantastic together. Chicken and waffles exemplify this phenomenon. Somehow, the flaky, buttermilk goodness of waffles is complimented by the deep-fried, bone-in sensation that is fried chicken. Smeared in salty butter and doused with real maple syrup, you achieve the optimal flavor balance.
We have the Wells Supper Club to thank for discovering this magical pairing. This now-closed Harlem hot spot was a 24-hour jazz and late night indulgences, including the fusing of deep-fried poultry with Belgian breakfast. It brought in the likes of Nat King Cole (who actually had his wedding at the venue) and Sammy Davis Jr.
But alas, the Wells Super Club is now defunct, joining Harlem institutions like the Savoy Ballroom (now the Savoy Park Apartment complex) and the Cotton Club. So, where is one to go in Harlem for the neighborhood’s greatest invention? (After Jazz, the Lindy Hop, the Harlem Renaissance...okay, one of their greatest inventions).
We composed a list of the only 4 spots you need in Harlem for the neighborhood’s prized food.
While we know that chicken in waffles is straight out of Harlem, there is something distinctly southern tasting about it. That’s why it feels right at home at Melba’s, the love child of Melba Wilson (and winner of Bobby Flay’s Throwdown!). Her soul food finds the happy spot in between comfort food and new American, walking the line between classic and contemporary.
Her fried chicken is the real deal, crispy and tender as it should be, but her highlight is the eggnog waffles. They taste something like Christmas in July, just different enough to tantalize without making you feel out of place. Topped with strawberry butter and maple syrup, they’re sure to leave you coming back for more.
There aren’t too many restaurants that have been kicking around Harlem (or New York in general) longer than Sylvia’s. Never shy on servings and featuring a Gospel Sunday Brunch (from 11am to 2pm), this locale has seen a lot in its 50 years in service. It’s nothing if it’s not iconic, with tour buses full of patrons stopping to sample Sylvia's cuisine.
While they give you some options, request one of Sylvia’s classic waffles smothered in dark meat fried chicken. The buttermilk goodness blended with the succulent dark meat will make you understand why this place is so acclaimed.
In the tradition of the Wells Supper Club, Amy Ruth’s establishes its credibility by never hanging up a “closed” sign. And, in the tradition of all great 24-hour diners, their menu is diverse and colorful, assigning celebrity names to each of their entrees (my personal favorite is the Al Roker, which are the boneless short ribs that claim to be “the best in the city”).
They have a range of waffle and chicken selections to pick from, ranging from strawberry-covered waffles (Sister Jannette Robinson) to Southern honey-dipped fried chicken (the Reggie Harris). However, the Rev. Al Sharpton is the classic, letting you choose between fried or smothered chicken and waffles (spoiler alert: both are fantastic).
Red Rooster Harlem
Marcus Samuelsson epitomizes the international chef. His African-Scandinavian-French-American flavor is a complex combination that makes its way into the hearts (and bellies) of hungry Harlemites. His spot is such a Harlem staple that Obama (while president) dragged his entire motorcade there, just to dine with his friends.
Giving credit where credit is due, his “Yep, Chicken & Waffle” has the subtitle: circa 1930 in homage to its forerunner, the Wells Supper Club. He has a few variations, one featuring “Jesus’ hot breath, Vermont syrup, and pickle chips” (think aggressive, spicy, delicious). He also does the more savory, tangy “Bird, Gravy & Waffle”, which is a mix of “sawmill gravy, crispy chicken thigh, bourbon syrup”. The most upscale locale on this list, if you’re looking to get your chicken and waffles extra fancy, look no further.