What follows is my review of Durham, North Carolina’s Dame’s Almost Famous Chicken & Waffle’s. I should preface this with mention of the fact that I have never before had Chicken & Waffles. I’ve not ever even had Soul Food, I don’t think. Unless you count the Kill Devil Grill’s Bubble & Squeak, poached eggs served over fried chicken and topped with sausage gravy. It’s not classically southern food I don’t think but it is fried chicken at breakfast time and the only time I have ever consumed in excess of 3500 calories in a single meal so it seems to deserve mention.
We walked towards the door past the dozen or so people waiting outside. We overheard the hostess say “there will be a 45 minute wait” to a table of two and we just smiled smugly, like you do when you’re waiting to say “party of 4, we have a reservation.”
The smug look left our faces quickly when the hostess replied stalwartly “we don’t take reservations on Sundays. I’ll be right back” and turned and left us standing at the door.
Every single review I read of Durham’s famed Dame’s Chicken & Waffles mentioned their wait. Without exception they claimed it was worth it. It was the middle of the afternoon. We had a happy baby and a reasonably docile six year old in tow so I suggested we try to appeal to her sense of kindness rather than give her any attitude. Maybe they could seat us in 25 minutes instead of 45? A restaurant known for being busy will not likely care if we were to cop an attitude. My mental scenarios were all unnecessary. She returned to let us know that our reservation was taken by a new employee. She saw where our name had been written down and she would be glad to give us the next available table. So far, so good.
Emily and I stepped outside for a few minutes. The people waiting for a table were clearly divided into two camps – those trying to figure out what they would be having and those that had been to Dame’s before.
Everyone that was there for the first time had the same excited expression I can remember seeing on a freshman girl at her first fraternity party spring semester. All at once excited and pain-stakingly casual. Unsure of how things we going to unfold. Not entirely certain why they had waited so long to come.
We were greeted warmly immediately after being seated and provided crayons with which to draw on the butcher paper. We clearly fell in to the “Never been here before” camp as our waiter gave us the full low down on the menu. I love a place that tells you instead of their specials which items they do not have today. It suggests everything is special, some items so special that they’ve run out. Instead of feeling like you are being gypped you mentally start planning your next visit before you have even ordered.
We debated. MQD used a random number generator on his phone to decide. And then changed his mind again. Ultimately opting for the “I’ll decide when the waiter asks me” approach. I opted for sweet potato waffles with fried chicken cutlets and a shmear of maple-pecan butter. MQD went with chicken legs, a classic waffle with caramel and cashews with a chocolate hazelnut shmear. Em got a classic waffle with a blueberry shmear. On the side we had grits and macaroni and cheese to share.
“This is too good to be true.” Emily summed it up best. Each item was outstanding all by itself. Every one of us took a bite and instantly said “Try this!” to everyone else at the table.
Our waiter asked how things were and we told him we’d be back, at least a dozen more times so we could work our way around the menu.
As we started slowing down I declared “There will be no dinner served at our house tonight.”
Delicious. All the fuss about chicken and waffles have you baffled? Go to Dame’s. Order anything at all. It will all make sense to you. And order the macaroni and cheese. Just so you can tell me what the added herbs in it are… rosemary and thyme, I think. But there’s something else, too. It must be Soul.
I had never heard of chicken and waffles either until a friend from California visited us in Memphis last summer and insisted we try them. I guess I’m a bad southerner ;)