Road Trip: Dame’s Chicken & Waffles, Durham, NC

The Quilted Buttercup

Thanks to numerous weddings in the past couple of years, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to return to my home state of North Carolina for brief visits. While DC has great food with lots of cultures and cuisines represented, I still miss my southern food. So whenever I visit NC, I try my best to either visit one of my old favs or try a new place that’s representative of the state’s food culture.

Last Saturday provided a great opportunity to try somewhere new. J & I  met my dad and brother for lunch in Durham before the next leg of our trip to Greensboro for a friend’s wedding. Even though I grew up 45 minutes from Durham, I’m not too familiar with downtown, which has experienced a revitalization in the past few years.

My brother directed me to a blog with reviews of Durham restaurants to select our desired eatery. J & I settled on Dame’s Chicken & Waffles. Sure, Birch & Barley has delicious chicken & waffles, but I thought Dame’s would give us a different take on the southern dish.

Our first impressions of the restaurant weren’t great. It was fairly small and I noticed several empty tables, yet a few groups of people gathered outside. The hostess informed me that the issue was waiter availability rather than table availability and she pulled a 15 to 20-minute wait estimate out of you-know-where.

Fine. We had time to kill and it was nice out, so we waited. And waited. It ended up being at least 30 minutes. But we dealt with it, and were ravenous and ready to order when seated.

Dame’s is smart to offer a short and simple menu of nothing but various types of chicken & waffles. Their specialty is something called a “schmear” or flavored sweet creme butters in varieties such as blueberry, maple and toasted almond creme. Each waffle is served with a southern side such as mac & cheese, squash, and my personal favorite, collards. Coffee is self-serve, which is nice given how long our waitress took with our other drinks.

Luckily though, food service was quick. Before we knew it, massive plates of chicken & waffles sat before us.  I decided on the ‘Quilted Buttercup’-  two petite “rare breed” scratch-made sweet potato waffles shmeared w/ maple & candied pecan. I smeared the schmear on the top waffle and pierced a bit of each ingredient onto my fork so I could taste all the components together. The chicken was perfectly crisp, crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The sweetness of the schmear went perfectly with the savory chicken. My main complaint was the lack of sweet potato flavor. But given how much chicken was on my plate and the sweetness of the schmear, I guess that was to be expected. My side of collards was delicious as well, with an unexpected kick to them.

J ordered what they called “What a Classy Hen?” which came with a vanilla and toasted almond schmear on a classic waffle, with squash and onions for his side. However, for some inexplicable reason, he decided to go with the healthier grilled chicken. This slightly defeated the purpose. The outer edges of the chicken were tough, but the inner sections managed to remain juicy and tender. The schmear was smooth on both the chicken and the waffle, and the saltiness of the squash  balanced the dish nicely.

While it’s nice for the health-conscious that Dame’s offers the grilled option, we say you should just plan on skipping the restaurant if you’re looking to eat healthy. There’s something about the crunch and savoriness of the fried chicken that mixes with the sweet waffle that makes the dish. The ‘magic’ is just lost when the crunch of the chicken is removed from the equation. Overall, it was a delicious meal and somewhere I’d return the next time I have time to kill and calories to add in Durham.

Check out Dame’s Chicken and Waffles at 317 West Main Street,  Durham, NC.