Chicken and waffles is one of those culinary anomalies that just works. Enter Sweet Chick, which recently expanded from Brooklyn to bring this dish—and plenty of other mouthwatering comfort food plates—to Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
What you’ll notice right off the bat when you walk into the newer location is the aroma of delicious food, the sound of vibrant, curated beats and the feel of a relaxed yet polished atmosphere. Someone’s put a lot of thought into this place.
That’s all down to the men behind it—co-owners John Seymour, co-owner Sam Saleh and Chef Randy Reppel (pictured above) and GM Kyle Martin. The driving force is Seymour, who served us a lunchtime feast while discussing what makes his eateries different, the proper way to consume chicken and waffles and, you know, Raekwon.
“My personal preference is chicken in one hand and fork with a waffle in the other, and just back to back. Oh, and syrup on everything. Syrup is key.”
People may assume chicken and waffles started in the South, but early Southern cookbooks didn’t include a recipe. What is known, though, is that it was served in the 1930s right here in New York…
Chicken and waffles started in Harlem with the Jazz scene. Jazz musicians and singers would be done with their routines or sets at three or four o’clock in the morning, and they’d go into the kitchens of the venues. And one guy, one time said, “I don’t know if I want breakfast or I want dinner.” The cook said, “how about we do some fried chicken and waffles?” And the legend was born.
And aren’t we all better for it! What’s the secret to your fried chicken, and how can the home cook replicate?
Make your brine! The base you’re always going to want is water, salt and sugar. And it’s just really about playing with the levels, which is probably the most fun. Our liquid has sweet tea in it, hence the name Sweet Chick. In opening our restaurant, we did a lot of different trials—a little more salt here, a little more sugar there, et cetera. We brine our chicken for 24 hours, but if you can get it in for four hours, it’s better than not doing it at all. I think the whole reason you’re cooking at home and not going out to a restaurant is to find your flavor.
Why brine versus marinate?
A brine will penetrate the meat with all the flavors you’ve created. When you bite into that piece of chicken, the juice and flavor is going to be in there. A marinade just doesn’t get deep enough into the meat.
Is there a proper way to eat chicken and waffles?
Everybody has their own take. My personal preference is chicken in one hand and fork with a waffle in the other, and just back to back. Oh, and syrup on everything. Some people just get in there with a knife and fork and take the chicken off the bone, put it on the waffles, syrup on top, which is fine, too. Syrup is key.
Sweetest things: Chicken and waffles, rustic decor and bacon and kale make the grade.
Let’s talk about the vibe in here. It’s relaxed—the flea market finds on the wall are expertly picked, the music is on point and there’s an overall warm buzz.
My father was a bartender at a local bar [in Long Island] and we knew everyone in our neighborhood, and I think that rubbed off on me. The whole focus is to be a neighborhood spot where you’re also going to come and get other things. The service should always be in competition with the food. The music should always be in competition with the service. Let’s make sure we’re not forgetting about anything.
You even have your own beer!
It took about two months to turn around. About five guys from the Sweet Chick crew went out to the Captain Lawrence Brewery on Long Island, they tasted, they tasted some more and the C.R.E.A.M. Ale, specific to the two Sweet Chick locations, was born.
Where did the name come from?
C.R.E.A.M. as in Raekwon’s C.R.E.A.M. Chicken rules everything around me. There’s a [Wu-Tang Clan] song, Cash Rules Everything Around Me. So it’s C.R.E.A.M., c dot r dot…
We were having a big party for our Brooklyn restaurant’s one-year anniversary, and I was determined to get Raekwon to attend, so I was calling a bunch of friends and trying to put it together. It worked. I thanked everyone for coming, said a few words, his song came on and Raekwon came out of the kitchen doors [and performed]. I was my 16-year-old self again, and everyone went ballistic.
So between food, music and creating a sense of community, how do you have time for anything else? Your Instagram account is full of toddlers dancing to Beyoncé…
My wife and I met in New York and she’s from Trinidad and Tobago. She was doing some modeling and a friend of mine introduced me to her on Broadway. A classic New York story. The twins are four and our youngest daughter is two. They love chicken and waffles. I’m telling you, it’s almost scary because I don’t coach them on it. They went so far as to request that we send it for lunch to school. I’m not sending chicken and waffles to school!
Bonus tip: Ask for the off-the-menu spiked root beer float. The ice cream, usually bourbon or buttermilk, blends perfectly with Jameson. Here’s a similar version you can make at home.