One of Washington’s hot dishes is also one of the most unlikely, possessed of an uncertain history. It’s chicken and waffles, a combination that’s frequently mistaken for a Southern staple but that food historians trace to Jazz Age Harlem—to a restaurant called Wells’, a gathering place not far from such legendary nightclubs as the Apollo and the Savoy. When the clubs let out, patrons swarmed the restaurant for owner Joseph T. Wells’s breakfast/dinner hybrid.
DC’s own jazz corridor, U Street, the onetime “black Broadway,” is resurgent, and chicken and waffles is being served on both white china and Styrofoam. When done right, a forkful of crunchy, juicy fried chicken and crispy, fluffy waffle with a hit of syrup is a most satisfying bite.
At Oohhs & Aahhs (1005 U St., NW; 202-667-7142), owners Indiah Wilson and Oji Abbott serve chicken and waffles just as Wells intended it: as a late-night treat on weekends only. Partiers go straight from a night of clubbing, and cops between shifts line up for a fix at this mostly takeout operation. The waffle is fresh and fluffy—thanks to a house-made batter lightened with egg whites—and the chicken wings get a kick from paprika, rosemary, and pepper.
On weekends, the combo goes upscale at the soul-food spot Creme (1322 U St., NW; 202-234-1884), where brunchers wash it down with bottomless glasses of Bloody Mary. Diners choose white or dark meat, fried until crispy and buried, like the waffle, under a dusting of powdered sugar.
Across the street, at the wi-fi-friendly coffeehouse Mocha Hut (1301 U St., NW; 202-667-0616), the preparation is less elaborate; it’s also less satisfying. Stick with the tasty waffles loaded with bananas or pecans—they outshine the ordinary chicken.
Just off U Street, at Marvin (2007 14th St., NW; 202-797-7171), the dish comes on white plates with a side of . . . Brussels sprouts? Marvin Gaye, for whom the restaurant is named, lived for a time in Brussels, but this attempt at wittiness seems precious at first. All fears are dispelled when you dig into the crispy, spicy fried breast and the buttery Belgian waffle.
In Maryland, Gladys Knight and Ron Winans Chicken and Waffles (860-E Capital Centre Blvd., Largo; 301-808-6402), specializes in chicken and waffles day and night. But the signature dish is a letdown. The thin waffle is more reminiscent of Denny’s than anything Belgian, and the chicken seems to have been fried while frozen—the skin is crisp but the meat underneath is flavorless.
This article appeared in the July, 2008 issue of The Washingtonian.