Quality "Waffles" at Northwest-side Eatery

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First off, let's get something out of the way. There is no evidence that I could find that chicken and waffles originated in New Orleans, or that the town even has a particularly strong claim on the dish. Chicken and waffles is a dish that has soul food roots that may have originated in Jefferson's time. It exists on each American coast, and has been in Houston for many years now, primarily thanks to the existence of The Breakfast Klub.

I love The Breakfast Klub. It's worth the wait in the perpetually long line. The atmosphere is friendly, and everyone is there to enjoy the great selection of coffees and get down on some home-style, filling breakfast/lunch/brunch. Since I don't live inside the 610 Loop, though, I was very interested when New Orleans Famous Chicken & Waffles opened on FM 249 near 1960.

New Orleans Chicken & Waffles is a much more dressed-up eatery than the Breakfast Klub. Servers dress in sophisticated long-sleeved black shirts and slacks. When I visited, the manager was on the floor in a suit and the wood floor was gleaming. This is a place that screams "Sunday Brunch," which I have heard is packed. Make a reservation if you'd like to check it out.

My coworkers already think I'm a food-obsessed weirdo, and none of them had ever heard of chicken and waffles. To those who have not had it, the combination sounds nuts. Thankfully, my coworkers also have a history of indulging me, and they made the trek. We mostly got chicken and waffles all the way around, with boudin balls as a starter.

The chicken and waffles here are very good. There are no weenie wings to be found here; they're big and gorgeous. They have just enough spice to satisfy, but no so much to scare off someone who isn't into heat. Pepper sauce is available for those who have to have it. The waffle is perfectly respectable as well.

I wasn't as impressed with the boudin balls. I found them to have too much rice and not enough meat, but I'm not happy with most boudin I find in Texas. If you want real boudin, go across the border to one of the famed Louisiana meat markets (like Don's Specialty Meats in Scott, my personal favorite, or Rabideaux's).

One of my coworkers made a return visit without me (how dare he??), and when we went back together today, he said it was good the second time around as well. He was born in Mississippi but spent many years in Louisiana. He describes himself as an adopted Cajun, and was an excellent choice of lunch partner for the return visit.

This time, I wanted to get a bigger sampling of the fare. We ordered chicken and waffles again, as well as the seafood court bouillon (did you know it's pronounced "coo-booyon"? I didn't, but my adopted Cajun friend educated me), dirty rice and crabmeat au gratin from the "Premium Sides" section of the menu.

This is when things got a little strange. We were told there was no crabmeat au gratin. So, we asked about the crawfish and corn maque choux, and were told we wouldn't be able to get anything from the Premium Sides section of the menu. "How about the sausage jambalaya?" I asked. That was accepted. We'll come back to this odd situation shortly.

No alcoholic beverages are yet available here, although there's a promise of beverages called "Bayou Thang" and the "Big E-Z" once they get their liquor license.

I ordered my usual, coffee. On my first visit, it was fresh and delicious. They serve French Market coffee, which includes chicory. My initial cup today had been sitting in the pot too long, but the second one was obviously the product of a new pot and closer to what I remembered. Alas, they serve packets of non-dairy creamer on the side, which I won't touch. Have you ever read the ingredients of non-dairy creamer? If not, I encourage you to do so. It's nasty stuff.

The seafood court bouillon was impressive. A dark, flavorful tomato-y roux held a generous portion of crawfish and shrimp with celery and onion. Fresh, chopped green onions decorated the top. This is a winner, and I'd order it again with no hesitation.

The same goes for their dirty rice. It is absolutely wonderful, with lots of pepper, some distinct liver and even a few little chunks of sausage, which were a total bonus.

The sausage jambalaya never showed up, but suddenly the crabmeat au gratin did, and I sure wish it hadn't. First, I was just bemused at this cheesy mess. It seemed like a dip, but there was no bread to put it on, so I just scooped up a clod and put it on my coffee saucer. (Even though we had requested one earlier, we didn't get an extra plate for sharing. Service was otherwise excellent.)

It was horrible, and it smelled bad. I think the crab had gone past its prime. Is this why it was initially unavailable? I don't know, but if there was a cook in the back saying, "No, I'm not serving this," he or she should not have been pushed into it.

We finished our other food, which was satisfying and delicious, and boxed up the leftovers. (The container of crab gratin went into the nearest trash receptacle once I got back to my office. Yuck.) An order of beignets showed up, and unfortunately, this was the other dish that found no favor with us. These were thick, dense beignets, heavily coated in powdered sugar. A light, pillowy beignet is a delight like no other, but these would have a closer relative in biscuits or cornbread.

My dining partner also commented that, ideally, beignets should have a light dusting of powdered sugar and the diner would be provided with a shaker can of more on the side to sweeten to taste. We took a few bites to be courteous and left.

I am glad that New Orleans Famous Chicken & Waffles is on my side of town. I will visit again for everything I enjoyed today. I'm glad that I don't have to drive to Midtown to get a chicken and waffles fix. However, most diners would have been severely put off by that crab gratin and might not have returned. I hope they figure out what went wrong there.

A second location is planned to open in January at Westheimer and Post Oak near Grand Lux Café. The location I visited is located at 173735 Tomball Parkway 2-H, phone 281-970-0531.

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