The power is in your hands, Charlotte: Will we be a nation with fast-food fried chicken and waffles as close as any KFC counter? Or will this dish disappear faster than pancakes at summer camp?
Today, KFC begins testing chicken and waffles in three markets — Asheville, Greenville, S.C., and, yes, Charlotte. The test will continue until July 29 at limited locations. If you embrace it, it will spread to other markets.
To find out whether the world should clamor for this new wrinkle in the fried chicken/breakfast food line, I got a chance to go by and taste it before the official roll-out.
First, though, a little bit about chicken and waffles. The mash-up has a debated history. Some sources say it started with the Pennsylvania Dutch, who definitely had waffles they topped with chicken, although it probably wasn't fried chicken. It was more like a chicken gravy.
The twist of plopping pieces of fried chicken on a waffle probably started in the jazz world, possibly at a supper club in Harlem. The idea was that musicians had to eat after their gigs, when it was too late for supper and too early for breakfast. From there, it spread to Los Angeles, to Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles, in the 1970s. Somewhere along the line, singer Gladys Knight got into the act, opening her own chicken and waffles chain.
So no, fried chicken and waffles isn't exactly a Southern dish with a long history. But it's certainly caught on here, because who can resist the chance to combine fried chicken with maple syrup and hot sauce, the traditional accompaniments?
KFC's new version comes with a Belgian-style (think deep squares) waffle about the size of a softball and two pieces of chicken, either bone-in dark meat (a leg and a thigh or a thigh and a wing) or two long, boneless chicken tenders. You get a little tub of Mrs. Butterworth's butter-flavored syrup (you have to ask for hot sauce, and you should). The price will be either $5 or $5.49, depending on the location.
I tried both kinds of chicken, and while the boneless tenders are easier to cut up and combine with a forkful of waffle, I'd suggest chicken on the bone. It has more flavor, although at KFC, that flavor is all about the thick fried crust with the 11 herbs and spices.
The waffle itself is thick and chewy, with a little butter flavor on its own, even before you introduce Mrs. Butterworth to the Colonel. Drizzle hot sauce on the syrup, and she becomes a very sassy lady. It's not a very sweet waffle, even though KFC supposedly is using imported Belgian pearl sugar to make it, but it does have a little malted flavor.
Is sweet syrup, chewy waffle and salty fried chicken the fast-food offering of your dreams? I can't answer that for you. I can only tell you that if you want to try it in Charlotte, you have to go to one of two locations: 321 E. Woodlawn Road or 1101 N. Wendover Road.
Vote with your conscience. The world is depending on you.