2337 E Burnside St., 542-0880, screendoorrestaurant.com.
Fried chicken and waffles are a salty, sweet soul-food tradition from the Southern diaspora—depending on who you believe, originating at either a 1930s speakeasy in Harlem or a 1940s soul spot in Los Angeles. But over the past 10 years, standing in an hour-plus line to eat Screen Door's towering plate of fried chicken on a sweet potato waffle has also become a hallowed tradition, so popular that the restaurant is under constant pressure to come up with specials that compete with the chicken.
As told by co-owner Nicole Mouton…
"When we first opened, we didn't really know what to expect. It was a totally different restaurant scene. Clarklewis was in its heyday, and they wanted to kill the restaurant and re-create the restaurant. We said, 'Let's find a place where you can bring everybody and everybody feels at home.'
The thing we're most proud of is, we have the most diverse dining room in the city, hands down. All kinds of people come to our restaurant, and that makes me happy.
We didn't have the fried chicken and waffle on the menu originally, and we had customers asking about it. We started playing around with different versions.
A lot of times with fried chicken, they try to put in a bunch of secret-recipe spices. We felt like keeping it simple was best. We decided to go with boneless because brunch is fast-paced. We didn't want people to worry about chicken on the bone.
We went with a sweet potato waffle to give it a unique touch that we could call our own. It has some flavor in common with pie spice, but there's also some molasses. It works with fried chicken.
We just started loading chicken, and we got to a pound-plus of food. People just couldn't believe it. It was jaw-dropping to see that much food on one plate.
When we first started, it was more than we could handle. It was a learning curve. We had no idea when we put fried chicken on the menu it would outpace everything else.
It sort of creates a competition in the kitchen, within the menu itself. You can't have a kitchen where you get all the food coming off one station. We serve 500 plates in a brunch. What fantastic thing can we create that will lure people off the fried chicken? It's a challenge. We don't ever beat it, but we come close.
It tastes really damn good. Ten years later, you'll still catch me, the owner, sitting down to a plate of chicken and waffle."
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