Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, April 16, 2021

Scenic City: Tupelo Honey’s fried chicken worth a return visit

The mac-n-cheese waffles with Asheville Hot Fried Chicken

The first time I heard about a restaurant serving chicken and waffles, I thought someone had lost a bet. Why would anyone combine one of the South’s most comforting savory foods with one of the best sweet breakfasts you can eat? It seemed like an odd pairing.

The first time I tried chicken and waffles, I felt like I had lost a bet. I don’t remember the name of the place, but a now-shuttered waffle spot on Broad Street served me a generic waffle and what looked and tasted like Shake ‘n Bake chicken tenders. Didn’t finish them; never went back.

But the popularity of chicken and waffles seems to have grown, probably because it does combine one of the South’s most comforting savory foods with one of the best sweet breakfasts you can eat. There’s just something irresistible about a mouthful of crunchy fried chicken tenders, maple syrup and scratch-made buttermilk waffle.

I know this because the chicken and waffles at Farm to Fork in Ringgold made me a believer. If you’re a skeptic, like I once was, head south on I-75, get off at exit 350 and turn left at the light. Yes, their chicken and waffles are worth crossing the state line.

Or you could try one of the new chicken and waffle creations at Tupelo Honey in downtown Chattanooga.

Located in Warehouse Row, Tupelo is known for putting a unique spin on traditional favorites, so when I learned the restaurant had started serving a trio of savory chicken and waffle dishes, I grabbed my wife and headed downtown. (We went April 8, Tupelo’s first day of serving the new items.)

When we arrived in the late afternoon, we learned we were not the only ones who’d heard about Tupelo’s new culinary venture. As the host led us to our table, I spotted a few other patrons devouring their choices, and I liked what I saw.

Two thick waffles and a meaty fried chicken breast covered each plate, and folks had tossed aside their good manners and were shoveling forkfuls into their mouths.

Clearly, if you’re running on empty, Tupelo is a good place to fill up.

But is it a good place to fill up on chicken and waffles? This was my question as we lowered our heads to look at the menus the host had placed in front of us.

Tupelo’s three selections are appropriate for breakfast or dinner (actually, breakfast in general is appropriate for dinner in the South, so that should go without saying) and do sound appetizing.

At the top of the list is the sriracha honey-fried chicken and waffles, which offers sweet and spicy fried chicken over fluffy buttermilk waffles. To emphasize the savory nature of the dish, Tupelo tops the breast with small sprigs of cilantro.

Then there’s the mac-n-cheese waffles with Asheville Hot Fried Chicken. Yes, Tupelo put macaroni and cheese in a waffle and capped it with spicy fried chicken, housemade garlic buttermilk ranch, pickles and chives.

“You’re welcome,” the menu reads, certain I would say, “Thank you.” I actually said, “Wow, that sounds like the ultimate comfort food.”

Finally, there’s the country-style fried chicken and waffles, a variation on biscuits and gravy that comes with honey dusted fried chicken, milk gravy and basil, as well as two fried eggs on the side.

I didn’t want to choose, so I ordered all three for my wife and I to try. Then we settled in for what felt like a long wait.

Clearly, if you have time to kill, Tupelo is happy to lend a hand.

Anyway, when our food arrived, most of it looked as good as the menu had suggested. The sriracha honey fried chicken had a sticky sheen, while the country style fried chicken was covered in what my eyes thought was sausage gravy but my brain remembered was milk gravy.

I thought the mac-n-cheese waffles were missing an important ingredient – namely the “Mac-n-Cheese” – but I was wrong. As I mentioned earlier, the cheesy stuff is cooked into the waffle.

As the dinner crowd started to arrive, my wife and I dug in. Earlier, I had liked what I had seen as other patrons were shoveling forkfuls of chicken and waffles into their mouths, and now I was generally liking what I was eating.

A juicy burst of tender meat follows the crunch of biting into all three varieties of chicken. Also, the sriracha honey fried chicken is sweet, as advertised, but only mildly hot. For me, it has the perfect amount of bite, although I doubt it will please people who are hoping its truly spicy.

Meanwhile, the country style fried chicken and waffles tastes good, even though the gravy is a bit bland.

The mac-n-cheese waffles, however, is a letdown. Instead of being the ultimate comfort food, it simply tastes like slightly spicy chicken on a plain waffle, perhaps because the waffle contains only a thin layer of macaroni and cheese.

Yes, I’m complaining that a food that’s already 100% carbs doesn’t have enough carbs, but what can I say? I was expecting my fork to pull away a long string of melted cheese, but instead, I had to put on my readers to make sure they hadn’t forgotten the good stuff.

When I looked to see if my wife was enjoying her meal, I saw she had removed the chicken from one of the waffles and was asking our server for syrup. After 13 years of marriage, she still manages to occasionally surprise me.

While Tupelo didn’t wow us with its chicken and waffles, the dishes included just the right amount of adventure to make them worth crossing the state line to try. In the end, Tupelo’s savory take on chicken and waffles does hit several high notes, including ones I wouldn’t mind tasting again.

Hours at Tupelo Honey are Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m.,

Saturday from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m.-8 p.m.