Taking a bite out of chicken and waffles
Sunday, we are told, is the day to visit Immeasurable Chicken and Waffle. Try early afternoon, suggests Yanna Foster, just after church services let out, and everyone is ready for comfort food after being spiritually nourished. On Sundays, men and women in sharp suits and hats fill the tables and booths at the modest storefront on West Pratt Street, and Foster and her two business (as well as singing) partners, Ronnie Brooks and Victoria Coleman (also known as the gospel trio Immeasurable) work the floor of the restaurant, greeting customers and breaking into song. Actually, confides Foster, they'll sing anytime the three women are together in the restaurant, which means you can almost always catch them on Saturday nights, too. But today, a Tuesday afternoon, it is only Foster, who acquiesces to putting on Immeasurable's new Christmas CD in lieu of a solo performance.
Even so, Immeasurable Chicken and Waffle hums with life. A long table of work buddies dig into enormous plates of fried chicken. A mother and young son share one table, while two friends grab a booth. Customers here are black and white, in office dress and construction garb, regulars and newcomers, and after an engaging conversation with Foster and with David, our young server, it struck me that customers are probably remembered on subsequent visits here.
It's this warmth and welcome that could make Immeasurable Chicken and Waffle work in a neighborhood that could use more success stories. According to Foster, the three women are dedicated to making the restaurant an alcohol-free, Christian gathering place for the community, and a room above the restaurant is already being used for concerts, dance contests, and community meetings.
But what will bring most folks from outside of the community is the food. In fact, the sides alone are worth the trip. Think chopped greens, tangy, strong, and softly bitter, hiding nuggets of turkey meat. Candied yams, partially mashed and glistening with caramelized brown sugar. Creamy macaroni and cheese under a brown crust. Perfectly round hush puppies, each with a bright yellow kernel of corn in the middle. And the gravy? My heavens, it's good, and I, like David it turns out, am not a big fan of poultry gravy because it's so often pale and watery and has more texture than flavor. But as David said of Immeasurable's gravy: "I don't even like gravy, and I love this gravy." I confess: It was so rich with chicken essence I even dunked my hush puppies in it.
Immeasurable Chicken and Waffle offers hamburgers and chicken tenders, subs and sandwiches, and breakfast is served all day, but why go if you're not going to try the chicken or a waffle, preferably together? Although we specified fried chicken for our Immeasurable supreme ($7), i.e., the chicken and waffle platter, David brought our waffle with grilled chicken breast by mistake (he told us that was his preference, along with a side of scrambled eggs). While we wished we could have tried the fried chicken, this combination proved toothsome, too, the waffle thick and malty, the chicken yielding to the fork, all topped with that lovely gravy. Still, the catfish plate ($12.95) was even better (and just as generous). The plate came with hush puppies and two more sides. Coupled with two fried-catfish fillets that stretched the diameter of the plate, this was a meal and a half, and I loved the way the slight bitterness of the greens played off both the crispy, mild fish, and the achingly-sweet sweet potatoes.
If I had my druthers, we would have tried the smothered pork chops, but one diner had an urge for a crab cake ($15.95). Immeasurable's is respectable, but there are better crab cakes out there. The same can be said for the desserts, a rotating assortment of cakes ($2.75 a slice) like lemon and red velvet, brightly colored, sliced large, and overdressed in whipped cream.
Immeasurable Chicken and Waffle doesn't look like much from the outside. There's not a whole lot going on inside either, if you discount the two huge renderings of chickens pecking at waffles that brighten two walls. Red and black columns stand between tables set with red and black upholstered vinyl chairs. There are a few red booths, a few potted plants; a line of photos of the Immeasurable singers snakes around the wall like crown molding. And then there's Audrey Hepburn. Poster-sized and dressed as Holly Golightly, she gazes down on the scene with her small smile. She seems a little out of place in long gloves, cigarette holder in hand, but the folks at Immeasurable Chicken and Waffle don't give her a second glance. Everyone is welcome.