Outside Harlem and the Deep South, combining fried chicken and waffles used to reliably provoke a double-take and a snicker. Now it’s become another trendy plaything for chefs to riff on, and for luxe travel magazines to feature in roundups: “City’s best chicken and waffles for under $40!”
But Auntie April’s Chicken and Waffles started serving its house specialty long before Dixie and Twenty Five Lusk subbed in quail for chicken, before anyone might suggest your waffles could be made with quinoa.
Call it “upscale comfort food fatigue” that drove me out to the Bayview to depart from The City’s frippery for some soul food basics.
Auntie April’s features a full roster of down-home rib-stickers, with portion sizes that cast doubt on the wisdom of finishing those last few bites. I’ll need to up my urban biking regimen to sweat off two meals there.
Breakfast runs a typical diner gamut, with eggs and bacon and the like. Most combos come with a mountain of peppery grits, rivers of butter trickling down the sides.
Fish in the morning isn’t everyone’s bag, but Auntie April’s catfish breakfast combo could silence most doubters. Four generous white fillets were blessed with a light cornmeal coat and slow-fried. Each piece turned out tender and flaky, not too fishy, providing a mild protein for easing into the day’s appetites.
The fish was served alongside two eggs, toast and that aforementioned heap-o-grits. I’d suggest ordering your eggs with yolks intact, perfect for swirling into the grits. I’d also suggest spiking your fish with some fierce, plain-bottle hot sauce, but don’t let me boss you around.
Well, maybe a little bossing is in order. Namely: Order one of the dinner combinations. There were no disappointments.
Along with two sides, you can get catfish; fried chicken (sans waffle); or some colossal portions of oxtails, meatloaf or turkey wings.
The turkey wing special — aka the Emma Daisy — showcased two juicy, Flintstones-size mammoth wings smothered in a rich, tan gravy.
The oxtails were slow-cooked until the fatty meat shimmied off the bone into its own gravy pool. This was another formerly gauche item I’ve seen dolled up at fine restaurants, rarely surpassing the results at Auntie April’s.
And how about those sides — gooey, decadent mac and cheese; tender, finely chopped collard greens; cubes of yams, sweetened with brown sugar and cinnamon; sumptuous red beans and rice, fleshed out with bits of smoked turkey tail.
Oh wait, did you want me to talk about chicken and waffles?
Call it burying the lead, but I honestly wasn’t wowed by Auntie April’s showpiece combination. Maybe my expectations were unreasonably high (it’s in the restaurant’s name, after all). Or maybe I’ve been spoiled by tony restaurants serving buttermilk-brined, pastured chicken and lighter, airier waffles.
But so it goes. The other food, and the lively environment, more than compensated for Auntie April’s prosaic mainstay.
On one visit, a customer winked and offered to take me home after I ordered her favorite combo — oxtails and cornbread. Saucy she was, and fully in sync with the Auntie April’s vibe.
Don’t worry: I’m not going to say “It’s so authentic!” or some such nonsense. Still, lack of pretense can feel refreshing in this increasingly fancified city. Especially when it provides the backdrop for such a good meal.