45 Danforth St., Portland
A few weeks ago I was having coffee with a friend when she said those three little words every guy secretly longs to hear: chicken and waffles.
I know, it sounds wrong, but trust me: it’s so right.
I first heard of this magical, if unlikely, soul-food combination while watching the low-budget 1988 movie Tapeheads. Two struggling video producers, played by John Cusack and Tim Robbins, make a commercial for a place called Roscoe’s Chicken ‘n Waffles. When I moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1990s, I was dumbfounded to discover that this is a real restaurant, located right smack in the middle of Hollywood. My wife and I ate at Roscoe’s — one of Snoop Dogg’s favorite joints — on several occasions before we departed California for the relative sanity of Maine. I hadn’t thought about the place for years, but with those three words, fond memories came surging back.
District, my friend informed me, was now serving all-you-can-eat chicken and waffles for $12 during Sunday brunch. Well, that was enough for me. My wife, daughter and I met up with a friend and headed down to Danforth Street.
We were seated right away and presented with three mugs full of fresh, hot coffee ($2) while we looked over the menu. Or rather, everyone else looked at the menu; I knew exactly what I was going to have.
We started with homemade doughnuts (two for $4). Pillowy soft, barely greasy, and served warm from the fryer, they were superb. The sweet and spicy raspberry-jam-and-black-pepper filling was a hit all around. We just wished there had been more of it.
My wife’s corned beef hash ($10) was, without exaggeration, the best we’ve found in Portland — and we’ve tried a lot. The shredded brisket was moist and well-marbled, and the seasoning was spot-on. Topped with two perfectly poached eggs and delicate, crispy little potato straws, this was one outstanding dish.
She asked for biscuits and gravy instead of the standard toast, and we were both glad she did. The fluffy biscuits weren’t the flakiest, but they served admirably as a vehicle for some of the best sausage gravy I’ve ever had.
My friend’s spinach-and-cheddar omelette ($8) was also outstanding. She particularly appreciated the top-shelf sharp cheddar and the nutty, delicate wheat toast baked on premises. Her side order of bacon ($3) was cooked just right — thick and meaty, yet still somehow light and crispy.
My nearly 7-year-old daughter got a side order of bacon to accompany her ricotta pancakes ($7). She didn’t quite finish it all, but not for lack of trying. The lightly browned cakes were fluffy, moist, and just a little sweet: delicious with or without the (real!) maple syrup.
Of course, I hadn’t come for pancakes. It was chicken and waffles time! And thankfully, I was not disappointed.
A tender Belgian waffle covered most of my plate. On top sat a pile of boneless chicken thighs, drenched in buttermilk and covered in a crunchy cornmeal coating. Neither heavy nor greasy, the chicken was delicious — and even better dipped in District’s homemade Sriracha chili-pepper sauce.
All you can eat? I could only make it through one plateful, and I was plenty full until dinnertime.
My meal bore little resemblance to the soul food at Roscoe’s, but unlike District, Roscoe’s doesn’t have charcuterie on the menu. Tradition aside, the food at District blew the original away.
There is something magical about this combination, even though, as they say on the Tapeheads commercial, “waffles just pancakes with little squares on ‘em.”
— Dan Zarin
District serves brunch Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.