From covered dishes in the Midwest to spaghetti bowls in the East to taco plates in the Southwest, church congregations have a longstanding tradition of breaking bread together. The challenges of feeding large groups of people on a pass-the-plate budget limits the grandeur of the meals, if not the sense of communion. Communities have varying degrees of culinary success meeting these challenges, as the plethora of church casseroles bound with cream of mushroom soup attests. An unscientific survey finds that ethnic congregations generally fare better than others. The autumnal Mediterranean Festival at Saint Elias' church, with its homemade tabbouleh and baklava, is a grand example. The curious and delicious combo of fried chicken and waffles is another. Though its liturgical origins cannot be positively verified, the golden combination smacks of Sunday church supper fare. Tucking into the unlikely yet complementary pairing transports the diner to an imaginary and idealized setting of wooden picnic tables under live oak trees, where prayers of thanks flow as freely as sweating pitchers of iced tea.
The combination plate has had its most famous success at the Los Angeles chain of Roscoe's House of Chicken 'n Waffles. Here in Austin, they're being served up at an unlikely location: Starlite restaurant's Sunday brunch. Amid the white-tablecloth-clad tables and fresh flowers, such a soulful meal at first seems incongruous. Eggs Benedict seems more in keeping with the atmosphere. And you'll find that swanky brunch staple on the menu along with other posh choices. But further investigation of the menu reveals its hidden soulful roots: Tater tots are served on the side of a variety of entrées. Someone in the kitchen knows from frying, as the plate of golden crunchy goodness proved.
A single enormous Belgian waffle with deep divots for pooling syrup accompanied a chicken leg and thigh that crackled with every bite. A modest dusting of confectioners' sugar suggested sweetening the meal, and we picked up our cue. Like Scout Finch's luncheon guest Walter Cunningham in To Kill a Mockingbird, we poured syrup with abandon over the waffle and chicken alike and found it is definitely the way to go. While no formal benediction of thanks was offered, we said a silent prayer of gratitude to the person who tipped us off to this weekend treat.
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