As the summer comes to a close, so too does the summer fair season, which means that your window to eat some of the nation’s most awesomely disgusting food items ever is coming to an end. For those of you who are not U.S. residents, perhaps I should explain: county fairs feature the sort of culinary experimentation that would cause your capillaries to scream in fear if they had mouths – basically, the philosophy is to find a way to deep-fry things that either should not be fried, or have already been fried but could stand to be rolled in dough and fried again. It started with stuff like fried candy bars, but has escalated to arterial WMDs like deep-fried butter sticks.
If you regret missing this mess, fear not – Popeye’s has the closest thing you can get to county fair food without having to pay exorbitant admission prices. In cash, that is; the toll on your heart remains the same.
Chicken and waffles has been a thing at least since Quentin Tarantino plugged the L.A. restaurant Roscoe’s in Jackie Brown. I’ve never eaten there, though I have eaten at events they catered: the fried chicken wings were tasty and the waffles capable, but eating them together at the same time never made much sense to me. It is entirely possible I have no soul.
Chicken and waffles was a suggested new flavor for Lay’s potato chips recently, but it lost to cheesy garlic bread. Still, it was sufficient proof that the flavor combination had a nationwide fan base, and it’s a natural fit that Louisiana chicken chain Popeye’s would be the first big one to capitalize. They are to soul food what Taco Bell is to Mexican cuisine, although I will say their cane-sweetened ice tea is pretty spot on, if oversaturated in sugar (go half and half with sweet and unsweet, then balance from there to find your perfect sweetness spot).
Now, I don’t know about every Popeye’s chain…but mine features some of the slowest service in the world, with what seems to be one cook gently waddling back and forth as the order tickets piled up, having nothing resembling a sense of urgency – perhaps because they make the order window so small that cooks cannot see the customers, and archaic set-up that mostly ended years ago when Paul Rodriguez called out this practice in an El Pollo Loco commercial. How I retain shit like that, I do not know.
So after waiting about ten minutes, getting my order wrong, and securing free fries as a result – while also being told my pie was not yet ready – it was time to taste these tenders, and boy, was I skeptical, because they don’t look much different than the norm.
The flavor instantly stood out, however. Waffly, yes. It was crispy outside, yet puffier and more elastic than usual inside – which, when you’re deep frying, also means it absorbs more grease. There wasn’t any added sweetness to it, but on reflection I’d have to say it tasted most like a fresh donut with no sugar, but chicken in the middle.
The sugar comes in the form of a honey maple dipping sauce, which, like most fast food sauces, is basically soybean oil and corn syrup. It’s also more sludge than liquid, with less taste than you’d think, though what could be discerned was the kind of passable fake maple I fondly recall from the days of Addams Family movie cereal. Dip the things in, and the overall effect is very much like that of a maple waffle flavored piece of fried chicken.
There are three strips to a $5.99 combo, but that’s more than enough – if you don’t fell like you totally OD’ed at that point, you are a heartier, fatter, unhealthier person than I. One of these things is tasty, but any more and you’ll be inhaling salads for a week to compensate. And I still had the fried blackberry and cream cheese pie to taste. It finally arrived when I was done with everything else, and proceeded to shoot molten filling onto my hands, which would have cried out in pain had they had Vampire Hunter D-style mouths.
Said filling was purely liquid, though, which felt deceitful – the picture shows whole berries. Not being willing or able to eat the entire thing, I pried it all the way open and found…no berries. Just a few seeds. If it were weed you’d feel cheated, but I can’t say I really expected really real whole blackberries.
In the spirit of the restaurant name, though, I think it’s fair to say I had all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more.