If my experience is any example, it’s possible to have sampled hundreds of regional cuisines around the world, including a few dozen genuine oddities (stag penis soup, anyone?) without ever trying chicken and waffles. Granted, this strange-bedfellows soul-food classic has a distinctly un-Yankee provenance: the Deep South, Harlem, and Los Angeles are its hot spots. But the Hen House recently arrived near Newmarket Square to perplex neophytes like me with myriad variations on this sweet/savory/salty/fatty platter of comfort. Choose your waffle (buttermilk or multigrain), butter (one of three kinds), syrup (three kinds, including honey), fried chicken (tenders, wings, or whole piece), and chicken sauce (14 options, including Buffalo, jerk, BBQ, and General Tso). That’s more than 500 possible combinations before you get to side dishes (15 options in three sizes). Did I mention there are also deli sandwiches, pizza, and salads?
I opt for a canonical combination: buttermilk waffles with plain butter, maple-flavored syrup, and unsauced whole-piece chicken ($7.49), actually a generous breast quarter and drumstick. (The classic alternative to sweet syrup — Southern-style country gravy flavored with ham drippings, onions, and black pepper — isn’t offered here.) I add small sides ($2.29 each) of red beans (excellent), cole slaw (wet but tasty), and smoked-cheddar grits (not bad for New England). The chicken is juicy and beautifully fried (if not quite a threat to Poppa B’s supremacy), but the waffles aren’t the dense, fat-browned sort I’m told this dish demands. Hen House waffles ($5.99 on the dessert menu) are fresh but light and fluffy, great with strawberries, ice cream, and whipped cream, but too wimpy in flavor and texture to stand up to crisp-fried chicken skin.
Considering how much food you get for the money, you may not mind that this brand-new place feels kind of dumpy, with its blasting dancehall soundtrack, cavernous space, all-plastic servingware, and underfinished, haphazardly cleaned communal tables. Counter service is also lackluster for a restaurant with the same owners as the nearby Victoria’s Diner, a model of quick-service efficiency. With four people ahead of us, two dinners take 25 minutes to arrive; how long might a busy-night wait be? Given our paltry local options for soul food, I suppose Bostonians can’t be too picky, but next time I’ll stick with the fine fried chicken here, and enjoy my waffles elsewhere — at breakfast — with real maple syrup.
The Hen House Wings ’n Waffles, located at 1033 Mass Ave, in Roxbury, is open Sunday through Thursday, from 11 am to 10 pm, and on Friday and Saturday, from 11 am to 11 pm. Call 617.442.9464.