The Atlanta restaurant that bears Georgia-born singer Gladys Knight's name serves up Nuevo Soul Food.
Charles Walton IV
Gladys Knight and Ron Winans Chicken & Waffles, Atlanta
I've eaten so much chicken that I can almost tell just by looking if it's going to be good. The second I spy the waitress carrying my plate here, I know it's going to be superb.
The skin on the chicken shimmers with a golden hue. Marinated overnight in a mixture of salt, pepper, garlic, and other secret
seasonings, it's a crispy masterpiece on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. The sides sing with flavor too. There's
cheesy macaroni; rice with cream gravy; and tender, succulent collards seasoned with smoked turkey. I crumble my cornbread
in the pot liquor from the greens so I can savor every drop of goodness.
Then there are the waffles. Made from a malted batter, their sweetness blends harmoniously with the savory chicken. "Food
should be a party in your mouth," says executive chef Reginald Washington. "A blending of sugar and salt really brings out
the rich flavor in our food. That's why the combination has been so successful."
Reginald didn't invent the chicken-and-waffle craze, but the Alabama-born chef added his own twist to the trend, serving up
what he calls Nuevo Soul Food. "It's a little lighter, but with a different flair to it," he explains.
As you might expect, the restaurant looks more like a chic lounge than a chicken joint. The walls boast rich, warm paneling
adorned with music memorabilia and celebrity photographs of Gladys Knight, Ron Winans, and friends. Caramel-colored leather
covers the comfortable booths and chairs. The restaurant stays open late on weekends to serve entertainers and other night
owls. 529 Peachtree Street NE., Atlanta; (404) 874-9393. Three-piece dinner: $11.50.
Price's Chicken Coop, Charlotte
There's nothing fancy about this restaurant. In fact, there's not even a place to sit down and enjoy your meal, but we sure got lots of letters singing the praises of Price's. One reader even went so far as to visit www.mapquest.com and print out directions for us to follow.
Still, I was skeptical. The lunch counter occupies a simple redbrick building in the shadow of downtown Charlotte. I arrive
at three o'clock in the afternoon only to find a line trailing out the door. At lunchtime, it is not unusual for the line
to stretch around the block.
Once inside, I realize that this is no feel-good, what-can-I-get-you-honey kind of establishment. The white cinder block walls
are unadorned. A hand-lettered menu hangs above a long white counter where a half-dozen cashiers buzz around taking and filling
orders. Behind them, white-jacketed fry cooks stand over bubbling vats of hot oil, cooking chicken as fast as they can.
Maybe it's the anticipation that makes it taste so good, but it's all I can do to make it to the parking lot before ripping
into the flat white box. All around me, others sit in their cars, radios and air conditioners blasting, delving into their
own boxes filled with tater rounds, mayonnaise-based slaw, feather-light hush puppies, and scorch-your-fingers hot chicken.
Price's opened in 1962 to cater to blue-collar workers in the area who had only 30 minutes for lunch. Little has changed,
except now it's as popular with downtown businesspeople as it is with construction and factory workers. 1614 Camden Road, Charlotte; (704) 333-9866. Half-chicken dinner: $6.10.
Kessler's 1891 Eatery and Pub, Versailles, Kentucky
I expected to find dozens of mom-and-pop joints in out-of-the-way places that would vie for the title of best in the South. Not so. Most have gone the way of country stores and full-service gas stations.
But this tiny Kentucky town, right in the heart of horse country, claims such a treasure. The chicken dinner comes with a
small salad, lackluster green beans, and a baked potato or fries. Locals know to substitute the homemade coleslaw or potato
salad. Still, the chicken is golden brown, lightly seasoned, and oh-so juicy. Every order comes out steaming hot and cooked
Manager Todd Geising, who followed his dream of becoming a Thoroughbred exercise rider to Kentucky, started working at the
restaurant just a year and a half ago. The menu features 35 items, including the popular half-pound, handmade hamburgers and
the fried chicken. "I put love in every plate of food I make," Todd says. "That's really the key to my fried chicken." 197 Main Street, Versailles, Kentucky; (859) 879-3344. Three-piece chicken dinner: $10.95.