Chicken and Waffles the Amish Way

Casey Barber

by Casey Barber on February 28, 2013

Brace yourself: we’re about to travel deep into the hinterlands of Pennsylvania once again for one of those “only in PA” culinary specialties that surprise and mystify the population at large. This time, it’s chicken and waffles—not the famous Southern version with fried chicken and maple syrup, but the kind I grew up eating with roasted chicken, yellow gravy, and sometimes, for that extra helping of carbs, a scoop of mashed potatoes.

amish pennsylvania dutch chicken and waffles
An Amish/Pennsylvania Dutch specialty, this curious compilation is seen more frequently in the towns east of Pittsburgh, where it pops up on local restaurant and buffet menus from State College to Lancaster to Reading. “Whenever I’ve tried to discuss our style of chicken and waffles with people, they seem confused until I explain that the waffles are just a nice alternative to dumplings or mashed potatoes with a roast chicken dinner (or, at my grandma’s house, an addition to mashed potatoes!),” said food writer and northeastern Pennsylvania native Michele Laudig. “It’s the starch that soaks up all the delicious gravy.”

Unlike Michele’s experiences, this wasn’t a meal served at home for my family. Chicken and waffles were a special-occasion food, a delicacy available when we gussied ourselves up to go to the Oakhurst Tea Room in Somerset, which has been serving the dish since 1933. It’s still part of their smorgasbord buffet and available on the lunch menu, where they’ll let you choose stuffing or french fries in place of the mashed potatoes if you so desire, but warn that there’s “No half portion on Waffle unless two people are splitting it.”

It was also often the closest I came to religion. The dish has always been a staple of Pennsylvania church and community fairs, served in the cool linoleum-floored basement meeting halls as a fundraising tool and counterpoint to the fresh-squeezed lemonade and Slushies from the outdoor booths. Despite not being Catholic, I ate my fair share of chicken and waffles from St. Benedict’s church on Bedford St., tagging along with friends during our summer vacations.

amish pennsylvania dutch chicken and waffles
Once we moved closer to Pittsburgh and further away from the more traditionally rural Pennsylvania Dutch communities, chicken and waffles fell off my culinary radar. I got my driver’s license and spent weekends eating Denny’s caesar salad and seasoned fries (with a side of caesar dressing for dipping!), Boston Market side item samplers, and Eat n’ Park clam chowder with friends, forgetting my food roots as so many teenagers do in favor of the communal booths of chain restaurants. Now that I’m older and look at my upbringing through a nostalgic lens, I think it’s time to bring chicken and waffles back to prominence.

Though the Amish chicken and waffle combo has been spotted as far south as Baltimore, it sadly hasn’t made the leap to nationwide fame. While I understand the appealing mash-up of fried, salty, and sweet that’s brought Southern chicken and waffles to icon status, the “epic comfort food” (as Michele calls it) deserves a bigger place at the table.

Why don’t more Pennsylvania-bred chefs tweak it for their menus and give it an upscale spin? Meat and Potatoes, the downtown Pittsburgh gastropub, does a Southern version with fried chicken, bourbon and bacon-infused syrup, and a savory cheddar jalapeño waffle for brunch, but ignores the PA heritage version entirely. (They also do a fancy bologna sandwich for lunch, but that’s another story.) Supper in Philadelphia serves chicken over a biscuit with truffle mustard cream sauce, which is at least a step closer to my goal of a chicken and waffle on every plate, but it’s still a nearly fruitless search.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to make it at home with the remnants of my roasted chicken, a quick batch of waffles, and a pan of poultry gravy—it’s gotta be creamy, and it’s gotta have that golden hue. If you’re from Pennsylvania and have memories of chicken and waffles, leave your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear your variations and if you’ve seen it elsewhere in the country.

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth January 5, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Thank you for this recipe. I grew up in Williamsport and my mom would make this for us. I looked for a recipe, and all I saw was fried chicken and maple syrup…not the comfort food I was looking to make for my sons. Thank you for sharing this recipe….can’t wait to make it.

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Bonni January 26, 2014 at 10:50 pm

thanks for the recipe! Born in the coal regions of PA and enjoyed Chicken & Waffles at Knoebel’s Grove. Got a waffle iron from Santa…so glad I can now enjoy a taste of my childhood memories!

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Kim January 27, 2014 at 1:13 pm

I remember this at my Grandma’s. We lived in Lancaster and Lititz. I’m going to try it for lunch. I also got a waffle iron for Christmas and we have leftover chicken and gravy. Let’s see if the kids and husband like it!

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Margaret Rowe January 28, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Loved this growing up in Lebanon, PA. quick and hardy meal…

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Heather February 7, 2014 at 1:00 pm

I’m from Canada and although I cook a lot and enjoy it very much, I’d always heard of chicken and waffles, but had never looked into a recipe etc. A few years ago, I met a lovely man from Ohio who has become the love of my life. We’ve talked about “chicken and waffles”, but not really “talked” about them..haha a year or so Lay’s chips came out with a Chicken and Waffle’s flavour, and I refused to try them…you see…when I FIRST heard of chicken and waffles, I pictured lovely prefectly roasted chicken, topped with gravy, sitting on top of yummy waffles, with lots of fresh ground pepper on top…mmmm….then reality(or so I thought) SMACK me in the face when I went to look for a recipe and found, to my horror(though I’m sure it’s good too) that what is commonly known as chicken and waffles contained fried chicken! AHHH!! my lovely vision was shattered, I was totally wrong! My chicken and waffle heart was broken….. until last week, when my boyfriend again mentioned them, and I, still thinking it was an odd combo asked him about making it for him for dinner…because he usually doesn’t eat chicken on the bone, and fried chicken usually is…..he looked at me on horror at the very idea that Chicken and Waffles be deep fried chicken! Instead, he describe almost exactly what I had originally thought Chicken and Waffles was! I KNEW we were meant to be together! haha

So today I decided to try look at a few recipes as a guide and found yours and have know figured out why he’s had the same type I had dreamed about (he grew up in (OH/PA)….. he also use to mention a thing called Scrapple, so I found some once in the store (now in WA) and was super excited about it at the time….although, it went in the freezer and hasn’t been touched since….I just can’t wrap my head around it, or how to cook it..

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Steph February 13, 2014 at 9:17 am

Slice the Scrapple and brown it on both sides in a frying pan. Serve with maple syrup as a side to eggs. My grandfather’s favorite PA Saturday breakfast.

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Lura February 16, 2014 at 10:23 am

I love chicken and waffles. I grew up in South Williamsport eating this whenever I got a chance. I moved away for many years and when I talked about chicken and waffles people had no idea what I was taking about. My husband grew up in southern Illinois and when we moved to PA he would not even think about trying this until we went to the Selins Grove Brewery. It was a special that day. I ordered it he ordered a sandwich. Food comes to the table he taste my chicken and waffles had he sandwich wrapped to go and orders chicken and waffles. He now loves it. I just got my own waffle iron and found this recipe. Can’t wait to try this.

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Amy February 24, 2014 at 10:24 am

I was born and raised in Lancaster County, and this was always a favorite. The only difference from your recipe to what I was raised on is that the chicken and the gravy were not separated. The chicken was mixed in with the gravy, forming a delicious, hearty meat gravy. It was also not as yellow. (It was served to me as a child, I am not sure of the recipe for this kind of gravy.) I remember going to community dinners at churches and various fundraisers where this was served as the main entree, in this fashion with the meat and gravy all together.

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Lee February 25, 2014 at 1:11 pm

From southern Lancaster county, now living in Baltimore, just making sure I was making it right….. I’m winging it, and I’m spot on. Thank you!

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Charity March 6, 2014 at 3:51 pm

WOW, I am SOO happy I found this article. People in CT look at me like I have six heads when I tell them fried chicken does NOT belong on waffles. *THIS* is chicken and waffles! <3

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Julia March 6, 2014 at 10:24 pm

My husbands family is frin Hazleton PA and that is how I learned about chicken and waffles. It is an awesome way to use leftover chicken and gravy and also helps stretch your food dollars. We love it with some homemade applesauce.

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