Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Chicago Dining World Tour: Even Without the Chicken, Chicago's Provides Good-for-the-Soul Food

Chicago's Home of Chicken & Waffles
Soul Food
2424 W. Dempster, Evanston
(locations also in Chicago and Oak Park)

What I ate: Fried Catfish, Waffle

Soul Food might not seem quite parallel with the international ethnic cuisines I've sampled as part of my Chicago Dining World Tour, but I felt its cultural flavors were among those I should explore.

Actually re-explore, as while living in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley in the early 90s, I went several times to a small soul food restaurant that I believe was on Sepulveda south of Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. (Anyone out there remember it?)

I know I had macaroni, cornbread and probably rib tips, and think I also tried collard greens and grits.

Though I have regularly enjoyed barbecue--and for that matter, macaroni and cornbread--I don't know that I've since frequented any other soul food restaurants, at least not identified as such. Although Dixie Kitchen, whose Evanston location I love and featured as my Cajun "Sethnic" entry, likely has many menu similarities.

But when I searched for Soul Food on Yelp, anywhere in the vicinity of my Skokie home, the top and most acutely relevant listing, was for Chicago's Home of Chicken and Waffles.

They have three Chicagoland locations, in Bronzeville, Oak Park and the newest being on Dempster just east of McCormick in Evanston, about 10 minutes from where I live.

My mom and I went there one evening and were instantly impressed by how beautifully appointed the restaurant is; though the vibe was casual, the decor could easily be that of an upscale steakhouse.

And just in terms of semantics, based on the menu logo and other signage, it seems that the restaurant's name may more properly be conveyed as CHICAGO'S -- Home of Chicken and Waffles.

Prior to going, I was not aware of the connection between chicken and waffles, nor why they would be featured on the menu of a soul food restaurant. But in telling an African-American colleague about my dinner, she said she'd heard the culinary curiosity came from the frequent late night (or early morning) food cravings of blues and jazz musicians, some whom desired "dinner food" (e.g. chicken), some who preferred breakfast (waffles) and others who would opt for both at the same time.

Sounds logical.

And yet, at about 7:30pm, my mom, who has never played a note of blues or jazz in her life, enjoyed her combination of fried chicken and a waffle, labeled Monique's Love. (The chicken breast could have instead been accompanied by potato salad or french fries.)

I love waffles but am allergic to poultry, so no chicken for me. But accompanying my waffle with another soul food staple, I ordered The Darnell, which provided two pieces of fried catfish alongside.

I should note that I could have opted for the catfish grilled, with fries or potato salad in lieu of the waffle. I would have liked to sample Chicago's grits, collard greens, yams and other sides that were available with their Dinners and Soul Food Special Combos, but neither of these groupings include a waffle option.

Yet what I had was delicious...and plentiful. I even brought one of the pieces of catfish home for a second meal, along with a quadrant of my mom's waffle.

So no need for peach cobbler, sweet potato pie or any other of the enticing desserts, which also include a fried waffle.

Chicago's Home of Chicken and Waffles--at least the one in Evanston--is considerably more plush than the soul food place I recall in Sherman Oaks, CA, if not as homespun. That one doesn't seem to exist anymore, but now I have good memories of a place much closer to my current home.

And especially with live jazz on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, I'll make a "note" of going back to Chicago's.

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