Gladys Knight and Ron Winans’ Chicken and Waffles, Atlanta
It might be one of the strangest food combinations served in the United States. It’s also one of the best. Basically, nobody is quite sure when the concept of chicken and waffles originated, but it’s believed to have begun in Harlem as a way to satisfy the tastes of late-night crowds who weren’t sure whether they wanted dinner or breakfast.
The answer became to get both, and that led to the formation of several soul food restaurants that headline the unusual combination. For those unfamiliar, soul food is basically the classic comfort food traditionally made by African-American families in the south. In many African-American families, money was tight, so it was traditional for the women to learn how to cook well and turn what they could afford into a delectable home-cooked meal.
Some of the staples of soul food include macaroni and cheese, greens, cornbread, sweet potatoes, fried green tomatoes and of course, the headline of chicken and waffles. In Atlanta, soul food takes on another meaning, because this restaurant is owned by Shanga Hankerson, who is the son of the Empress of Soul, Gladys Knight. Knight was apparently as good at cooking as she was at music, since Hankerson elected to open a restaurant based on the food his mother cooked while growing up, and attached the names of Knight and fellow singer Ron Winans, giving the restaurant an instant recognizability factor. I’m not sure if that’s a term, but if it’s not, I like it anyway.
But all the recognizability in the world won’t make a bit of difference if you can’t deliver once you get people inside. Fortunately, that’s not a problem here. The menu features plenty of options for both breakfast and dinner, such as omelets, brown sugar salmon, barbecue sandwiches and lots of tempting side dishes. Keeping with the theme of the restaurant, the sections of the menu are grouped into categories such as Headliners (breakfast entrees), Grammy Winners (dinner entrees), Side Shows (sides) and Encores (dessert).
If you’re here for the first time, however, you have to get what this place is really known for. That would be what is known on the menu as the Midnight Train, otherwise referred to as the combination of chicken and waffles. Of course, the name comes from Gladys Knight’s song “Midnight Train to Georgia”. In the food world, the Midnight Train includes four southern-fried chicken wings, plus one large waffle with butter and syrup. Just because I wanted to get some more soul food, I added a side order of macaroni and cheese. I know, real original. I make no apologies.
The combination that is the Midnight Train works perfectly. These wings are big, as is the waffle, and the reason it works is because your mouth gets a mix of savory and sweet, giving it a contrast that is both unexpected and enjoyable. The waffle is light and fluffy, exactly what a good waffle should be. When it’s soaked with the syrup, you’ve got a wonderfully sweet taste in every remaining bite. You could also utilize the small orange slice they give you, although I did not attempt that.
The chicken, meanwhile, is crispy and juicy. Fried chicken can go wrong if it becomes too greasy, but there needs to be some juice in there to make the bird worth eating. That’s exactly the case here. The breading is given the right amount of flavoring and spices, and you can stick it in the syrup to really change the taste. There is simply no way to get bored with this meal.
As for the macaroni and cheese, it’s exactly what it should be. While I’ve had the Kraft stuff on a burger, that’s not real macaroni and cheese. The real stuff is supposed to be large noodles with plenty of melted cheese, and that’s what you get here. This stuff is perfect and is a great complement to the rest of the meal. My one regret was that was the only side I was able to try. Next time, I might go with one of the meals to diversify.
That said, it’s hard to resist the call of the Midnight Train. Chicken and waffles might be a weird combination, but for some reason, it works out well.
Time to go: Surprisingly, it opens at 11 a.m. each day, rather than serve breakfast. Oh well. Monday to Thursday, it closes at 11 p.m., while on Friday and Saturday, you can go until 4 a.m. Sunday sees it close at 8 p.m.
Wait during my visit: None, but I did go very late in the evening.
Location: It’s in downtown Atlanta, located at 529 Peachtree Street NE. Be careful, because the restaurant is very easy to miss.
Parking: Oh boy. Atlanta is not an easy city to park in, but Gladys and Ron’s does have a parking lot…if you can find it. The night I went, I circled the area twice, finding no place to park. I called Amy, hoping that we could work through this together. While on the phone with her, a bum came up to me asking where I was going. Probably foolishly, I told him and he told me where the lot was. After confirming this with the manager of Gladys and Ron’s, I finally found it tucked away with no signage behind the restaurant.
The bum had followed me to the parking lot and asked if I could spare a couple bucks for his help. Since he did help, and I carry few small bills and wanted to just go eat, I handed him a five. The bum responded by handing me a 3XL T-shirt (which is WAY too big) since he could tell I was a nice guy. Finally, I made it to the restaurant, so I essentially paid five dollars for a shirt and directions. I considered that fortunate.
My advice: Go in broad daylight.
Cost: Most meals are about $10-15. It’s not bad.
Seating arrangements: Padded booths get the job done here. The tables do move, so you can create the space you need to fit if necessary.
Website: Gladys and Ron’s
Specialty items: Soul food, chicken and waffles