The Guilty Pleasure: You're soaking in it. Where To Get It: Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles, 1220 S Central Ave (and a second location in Scottsdale) Open: Less than a week for the new Phoenix digs. Price: $4-$14, depending on your appetite. What It Really Costs: About half a day on the treadmill.
For local success stories, few are as brilliant as that of Larry White. You probably know him better as Lo-Lo, as in Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles. He started out at his grandma's place, the legendary Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe. Then, in 2002, he started up his own place in a small converted house south of downtown Phoenix. In the ten years since, he opened a second location in Scottsdale, and long ago outgrew the original 1,000 square-foot location. This past Wednesday, the little house quietly served its last customers. Three days later, a shiny new location opened right next door to the old place.
For diners who are used to the tiny house at 10 West Yuma, the new space is palatial. The cavernous dining room is decorated in a style both modern (exposed beams and brickwork, Edison-light lamps) and kitschy down-home (floral arrangements and rooster knickknacks on any spare horizontal space; Mason jar chandeliers ripped from Sam Fox's playbook). Famous people may be invited to dine in the Big Rooster room with a direct view of the kitchen; hoi polloi like us can glimpse the same view from the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. Patio dining is in the works, with a space awaiting tables, chairs, and shade.
Despite inevitable opening kinks, it appears the kitchen is already operating on all cylinders. The food I sampled is every bit as good as ever. Strong, sweet Kool-Aid is the drink of choice, available in red or blue flavors. Fried chicken is, as always, hot, crispy, and juicy. Waffles, requisite accompaniment to the chicken, are big and fluffy, have a hint of cinnamon, and make an excellent vehicle for butter and syrup.
Shrimp and grits are almost big enough to serve two. The lush grits come fully loaded with bacon, cheese, and sautéed mushrooms in addition to the shrimp. All the toppings relegate the shrimp to a role of minor supporting protein, but on the whole, it's a glorious mess I'd happily order again. If diners (by some miracle) have room after the meal, red velvet cake and sock-it-to-me cake (yellow cake with a layer of cinnamon streusel in the middle, topped with vanilla icing) are both excellent ways to ensure the trip back to the car will be a slow waddle. My preference goes by a (frosting-dotted) nose to the red velvet, but I could see myself ordering the sock-it-to-me with coffee if I wanted something decadent with (or for) breakfast.
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Whoever trained the front-of-house staff did a terrific job. Everyone I encountered was polite and friendly, if a little out of breath from the relentless pace of opening weekend. Once the inevitable opening kinks are worked out (if a restaurant literally moving next door has them, anyone will have them), I think Lo-Lo's Phoenix location will be better than ever. In the meantime, remember to bring an extra dose of patience in case of kitchen surprises, and cash in case the computers have a tantrum.