Rise & Dine!

Portland’s Battle for the Best Fried Chicken & Waffles

It’s brawn against brine.

By Zach Dundas and Martin Patail Edited by Rachel Ritchie and Karen Brooks Illustrations by Dan Gay February 23, 2012 Published in the March 2012 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Kate Madden

Born in the deep fryers of Harlem, fried chicken and waffles traveled west via Roscoe’s, the legendary LA breakfast chain, in 1975. Today, Roscoe’s is an institution. Even svelte President Obama made a stop there last fall.

If Portland knows anything, it’s a culinary craze worth stealing. Fried birds now roost atop pillowy cushions of dough on seemingly every breakfast menu in town—each with a twist, of course. Two worthy candidates for supremacy have emerged: Screen Door’s staggering poultry pileup and Simpatica’s diminutive, artisanal take. As these very different versions of the iconic dish rear up against one another across E Burnside Street, Portland Monthly editors Zach Dundas and Martin Patail take sides.


Simpatica VS. Screen Door
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Image: Adam Wickham

Screen door chicken waffles hvemgt

Image: Adam Wickham

ZD: First of all, I waltzed into Simpatica. You show up at Screen Door an hour before it opens, and you still wait two hours. MP: Yeah, but Screen Door rewards your patience with a tower of fried chicken with a giant knife stuck through it. Checkmate.
ZD: Pah! Why use a sledgehammer when the job calls for a scalpel? Simpatica gives you a drumstick, a little white meat, and three trim triangles of waffle drizzled with raisiny syrup. MP: How dainty. Try a trio of fat chicken breasts slathered in buttermilk batter spiked with liberal amounts of black pepper and fried to crispy perfection. Every bite is a kick in the teeth.
ZD: And the gut. Simpatica’s accomplishes everything in about 10 bites of bird. The breading is neither heavy nor light, but just right, and lightly flecked with salt. Plus, as every kid knows, drumsticks rule. MP: For the birds. As every kid knows, doggie bags rule. And at Screen Door, you’ll have enough for a kennel.
ZD: Let’s talk waffles. Simpatica’s is dry, but in a pleasant way, and dense. Almost crackery, but not quite. MP: Screen Door’s sweet potato waffle is just crunchy enough that it doesn’t crumple under the weight of all that chicken, but it’s surprisingly fluffy inside.
ZD: I found it comparatively insipid. Simpatica has a salty breading and no “sweet” component to the chicken itself, so the waffles’ raisin-syrup compote has to do all the lifting on that side of the equation. That gives these waffles a distinct advantage. MP: Keep your raisins off my lawn. For my money, Screen Door’s dusting of powdered sugar and single orange slice provide just the right accent of sweet to the peppery chicken. I love that the maple syrup is served on the side—dousing the chicken in the stuff would do it no favors.
ZD: Speaking of fowl, I get a little depressed thinking about the army of birds put to the sword every weekend to supply Screen Door. Simpatica’s plate, on the other hand, is friendly, approachable, and satisfying. Which, really, is what I’m looking for in a breakfast, fried or unfried. MP: I won’t waffle around here. The Screen Door version is as close to the classic dish as you’re going to find in this town: no fancy tricks, just damn tasty chicken. Sometimes bigger is better.

ZD: Screen Door’s Dubai-style high-rise is tasty, but its sheer scale scares me. You’re playing chicken with coronary insanity, Mr. Patail.

MP: And you’re just plain chicken, Mr. Dundas.
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