Oh, Southern food! I knew this type of cuisine would have a tinkling with my heart ever since I tried my first fried chicken, biscuits, cheese grits, and the like. How perfect was it that both Betty and I wanted to try out this restaurant as one of our line-ups for Winterlicious 2014? Harlem boasts two locations; one is entitled Harlem Underground while the other one is Harlem East. We ventured to Harlem Underground after hopping on a streetcar to the west side of Queen Street. It was easy to find and I was very excited to eat some wholesome and satisfying Southern dishes on a cold winter night!
We walked in and informed the host of our reservation. The space was relatively quiet still for our 5 p.m. booking. The server who waited at our table was great; she was friendly and very accommodating to our needs. One thing I didn’t like as much was that we seemed to have to wait quite a while for our food to arrive; especially the first course. The heat was also on full blast halfway through our meal, so we were very warm and it felt stuffy as we ate through our plates of food.
Betty and I both chose the Catfish Lafayette as our appetizer of choice. The other two choices, cornbread and mandarin spinach salad, paled in comparison in terms of their appeal. Perhaps the cornbread would have been interesting to try, but the Catfish Lafayette was definitely worth it. I was so impressed with the portion size! It was like a mini main dish. The picture definitely doesn’t do it any justice! It looks like poorly fried and lightly coloured morsels of fish, but it was so much more than that! Each morsel of catfish was perfectly fried; the batter was not heavy or oily at all. The catfish underneath the batter was SO tender and soft and juicy! It was so blown away by how amazing it tasted. I also enjoyed the distinctive sauces that came on the side. One was maple syrup with a spicy kick and the other was a sweet chili hot sauce. It was so unique! I absolutely loved this appetizer. ^_^
Seeing that we have similar tastes, we again chose the exact same main course: Southern Fried Chicken & Waffles. As a matter of fact, one of the sole reasons why we chose this restaurant out of all the 200+ Winterlicious restaurants participating this year was because they serve chicken and waffles here! Both Betty and I had never ingested this famous dish before even though I am such a huge fan of Southern food (I can’t believe I didn’t have any chicken & waffles when I was in Nashville the past summer!). Despite it all, I was overjoyed to get to try this!! 😀
The plate of Southern Fried Chicken & Waffles was overwhelming! Aside from the brown-coloured chicken and waffles, there was a splash of colour from the small salad on the side. (This salad provided me the only break from eating way too much protein and carbs during this plate of food.)
One of the first questions that popped into my mind as I started to pick up my fork was: How the heck do I eat this? There were two chicken drumsticks, one thigh, and four quarter pieces of waffles. There were also three containers of sauce: maple syrup, gravy, and their Signature Scotch-Bonnet-Coriander-Lime Syrup. Do I eat the chicken separate from the waffles? Do I dip each forkful into the sauces? Do I even use a fork or tear into the food with my hands? Or do I drench everything on the plate with the sauces and mix everything together? I was so confused. I didn’t ask the server about this how-to though, so I just took things into my own hands (literally 😉 ) and started downing the chicken drumsticks.
The chicken was fried to a crisp and very crunchy. Its crispy skin reminded me of the chicken at Popeye’s. However, the chicken meat itself wasn’t very flavourful and I definitely dipped it into the three sauces available. I liked the waffles; they were soft and warm. I ended up alternating between bites of chicken and bites of waffles with various sauces. I really wasn’t sure how to eat this, so the experience of having chicken and waffles wasn’t that satisfying for me. For my remaining piece of waffle and chicken, I used my fork and knife to shred the chicken meat from the thigh and piled the pieces on top of the waffle. I then drizzled all the sauces on top of it and proceeded to eat it with my fork and knife. It tasted pretty good. However, I still wish the chicken meat was more seasoned.
All in all, I can’t say that I was extremely pleased with my first time eating chicken and waffles. It was literally just that — eating chicken and waffles. I didn’t find anything that special about it. Maybe I did eat it wrong. In any case, I’m not writing off this Southern dish. I would love to try it out at another restaurant sometime!! 😀 Every restaurant has a different take on serving food, so I am definitely looking forward to another rendition of C & W!
Lastly, the dessert arrived. We differed on our choices this time. By this point, we were so full to the brim that we could barely move. The table next to us had also ordered chicken and waffles and I noticed that both of the diners packed their C & W leftovers home since the portion was just so generous.
I found that my Candied Plantains were so-so. There were big slices of plantains covered in a brown sugar caramel sauce. I didn’t find the flavour to be exceptional. Perhaps I was just too full at this point to appreciate any more good food.
Betty’s Almond Chocolate Kisses were not what we expected them to look like. In my mind, “chocolate kisses” are the Hershey chocolate kisses that are tiny and wrapped up in tin foil. This Almond Chocolate Kisses dessert was actually a little cookie-like dessert that was made with ground up chocolate and almonds with icing sugar on top. I tasted a bit and it was a little dry to me. We both weren’t a huge fan of it.
All in all, this was a solid restaurant to visit. I later found out that two of my friends also visited this restaurant for Winterlicious on the same day that I did! What a coincidence! This also probably tells you something about the interest level for this restaurant this year — a lot of people like Southern food! 🙂 My favourite part of the night was definitely the Catfish Lafeyette. I still can’t believe how tender and firm the catfish tasted! Mmm… 🙂