To a Southerner, chicken and waffles seems as natural a combo as peanut butter and jelly, rum and coke, Brad and Angelina. To the rest of us Yankees, it seems a little strange -- fried chicken is clearly a lunch/dinner/picnic food, while waffles are for breakfast or dessert. Right? A couple of Southern transplant friends assured me it was a winning combo.
For this week's Battle of the Dishes, we pitted the undefeated word-of-mouth chicken & waffles champ against a tasty breakfast joint that offers some of the best french toast in town.
In One Corner: Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
2765 N. Scottsdale Rd. in Scottsdale
The new Scottsdale branch of Lo-Lo's, in the old Kyoto Bowl spot at Scottsdale Rd. and Thomas, is a relatively large, open space, with shiny white tiles and retro red-and-white booths that lend a vintage diner feel. The old ordering counter has been updated with corrugated metal, a sleek butcher block top and counter stools.
The place needs all the seating they can muster. On a weekend afternoon, Lo-Lo's was packed. Gotta give the folks at Lo-Lo's credit for efficiency, though. Tables were bussed the instant butts left chairs and ready for new patrons in just a few minutes. Thus, what would be a thirty minute wait at Denny's or Ihop was only about ten minutes here.
We were seated at a cute little table squeezed in-between a dozen other tables in the step-up tier, practically rubbing elbows with the neighbors. Hope you don't mind gettin' friendly, y'all. Lo-Lo's menu is fairly straightforward, with traditional egg breakfasts, hot wings and a dozen or so chicken & waffles combos. I opted for the "Betty Boop," a light-sounding combo of one chicken breast and a waffle.
The dish arrived, a monster waffle with a giant golden brown chicken breast on the side. We're talking mutant chicken here, the thing was so big. Maple syrup and a scoop of butter rounded out the plate. My dining companion and I dug in.
"Mmm, this tastes like my mom's chicken," said my Southern friend. "It's so crisp and juicy." His mama's no slouch in the kitchen, so that was a huge compliment.
The chicken was succulent and well-spiced. The oils had seeped slightly through the skin, making the breast juicy and tender. The outer layer of breading remained crisp and moist without being uncomfortably greasy. The quality of the white meat chicken was excellent, and the outer coating thin and just spicy enough to be flavorful rather than overwhelming.
The waffle was like a huge version of a traditional breakfast waffle. It was very thick and heavy, and only slightly sweet, giving it more of the taste of a pancake. A bit dry on its own, but that's why you have the butter and syrup.
Good thing we were sharing, because you really need an extra stomach to down this combo alone. Then again, it was so delicious I'm not sure I really want to share next time.
In the Other Corner: Over Easy
4031 N. 40th St. in Phoenix
If anyone had the potential to best a Phoenix institution like Lo-Lo's, I figured it was Chef Aaron May. The Arcadia branch of his Over Easy breakfast spot is cute, tiny, and nearly always has a wait. There's barely enough room inside for a few vintage boomerang tables and a counter. The open kitchen's pretty large though, so at least you'll get a nice view of the chefs in action if you manage to nab a coveted inside spot at the bright yellow counter.
Otherwise you'll be out on the screened patio. It's actually quite cozy, with slatted wood walls, aqua vintage tables and heaters for chilly mornings. Over Easy's menu runs the gamut of traditional breakfast offerings, from oatmeal and omelets to a crazy 12-egg breakfast for thirty bucks.
We ordered the "chicken fried chicken and waffle with 100% pure maple syrup." Our waffle arrived on a round diner plate with the fried chicken centered on top. It was smaller than the Lo-Lo's waffle, but not by much. I bit into the waffle first and was pleasantly surprised.
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This was a much sweeter, more delicate waffle. It could practically float off the plate it was so light and fluffy. The taste was more like a waffle bowl; so sugary that there was no need for the syrup. Of course, we used it anyway.
"Wow, this reminds me of the waffle bowls at Cold Stone," said my dining companion. "I really hope the chicken helps to bring me out of the sugar coma."
The chicken fried chicken was a plump boneless breast with a flaky cereal-like crumb. Again, it was lighter than Lo-Lo's. The outer crust was light and crispy, flaking off in my mouth as I bit in. The chicken itself was definitely moist, without being oily. But it was bland, bland, bland. Clearly, Over Easy didn't understand the Colonel's need for seven herbs and spices. I'd be surprised if they even thought of salt and pepper.
The Verdict: Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles