Lois the Pie QueenJune 19, 2011
I had a dream this morning before I woke, and it went like this: I was sitting at a table eating chicken and waffles. Oh, delicious, delicious chicken and waffles. Then I woke and spent the next hour thinking about the wonder that is a fried piece of chicken eaten over a waffle.
Now, it is possible that in your neck of the woods "chicken'n'waffles" is not even a thing. It's a soul food thing, and it's not something I thought I would like when I moved to Oakland fourteen years ago. It sounded weird. Who wants fried chicken for breakfast? Then I had it, and it was good. Savory and sweet, great. But I wasn't IN love with it; it was just nice. But it grows on you, I'm telling you, until one morning you wake up and the first thing you do is start reading Yelp lists to find the best chicken and waffles near you, which is what I did this morning.
There were differences of opinion. Apparently, there are some good SF places, but I think Oakland is really the chicken and waffle hub, so I didn't even consider crossing the bridge. I've always been a Merrit Bakery gal, but it's only mediocre-good there. Roscoe's closed, and the Home of Chicken and Waffles sounded pretty touristy. Brown Sugar is good, but I'm not totally in love with their waffle.
Yelp told me about Lois the Pie Queen.
Let me tell you. You should go to there.(390 Yelp reviews, and 4.5 stars!!)
It's tucked away in North Oakland off the main drag of MLK. When you poke your head in, it's just a room, with a good old counter on the left and tables to the right. It's probably as big as our living room area at home (not big). On the left wall are maybe a hundred framed pictures of people eating there (not stars, just real people) for the past sixty-five years it's been serving food.
And it was perhaps the best restaurant experience I've had in years. Maybe ever.
We didn't know how to work it when we got there. It's Father's Day, so there were people waiting outside. I kind of hovered at the door, waiting to catch the hostess's eye, but I didn't see a hostess. I was confused. I'd never not known how to work a restaurant before. Mild panic set in. But then I saw a handsome man with dreads who was pouring coffee and seemed to be in charge, so I walked toward him.
"Hi, we'd like..."
"How many people, baby?" He touched me on the elbow, gently, and his voice was even softer.
"I gotcha, baby."
And I swear, they were the most welcoming words I've ever heard. I couldn't WAIT to sit down.
We got coffee and chatted with people outside (because everyone was in a good mood! They were at Lois the Pie Queen!). We were seated by the owner (of course that's who he was) in the window two-top (because everyone in line was held perfectly in his head -- he seated a TWELVE top in his tiny busy restaurant while we were waiting), and he laughed when I told him how excited I was. Then our server gave us the prettiest, most genuine smile I've ever seen a server give--she seemed genuinely thrilled to be working on such a glorious sunny day.
We got the best chicken and waffles I've ever had. The chicken was perfectly cooked, and the crust was just right and very basic, maybe just flour and salt (but not too much salt). The waffle was traditional. Butter and syrup. The coffee was great. The busboys might have been the most good-looking bussers in the history of the universe (like why aren't you in a movie good-looking), and a young boy (maybe ten?) was helping refill coffee and proudly asking each table, "Are you doing okay? Do you need anything?"
And the clientele? Perfectly Oakland, a mix of every race and age, and the sweetest customers were all the new dads -- there were many babies in carriers, all of them cuter than the next.
AND OH MY GOD THE PIE. A Yelp-er pointed out that when one visits a restaurant with a menu choice in its name, you should try that menu choice. So at Lois the Pie Queen, we had to have pie. Yelp had recommended the lemon icebox pie and the key lime pie. They were out of lemon icebox (this was by 11:30 in the morning) but when I mentioned I would want key lime pie (not even on the menu -- how COOL did I feel?) to our server when we ordered, she said she'd put aside a piece for me.
Thank god she did.
It was mind-blowing. I'm not a key lime pie fan, unless it's southern, at a real soul food or BBQ joint, and this was IT. You know how you eat something and eat it, and you kind of get used to it? So the first bite is the best, and then the other bites are quite good? This was one of those things where every bite was like the first bite, with an amazing blend of just-right tart and oh-my-god sweet that made me wish I never had to eat anything else, ever.
When we left, I thanked the owner and we hugged. He kissed my cheek. I felt anointed. We left the restaurant, stumbling, drunk on happiness.
And I'm not quite sure everyone would have this experience, which makes me even more happy that we had it. Some people would say, "Where's my mocha?" or "Do you have lite maple syrup?" or "They should redo this room." To them I say, you are missing the point, and if you're not at Lois the Pie Queen, there is more pie for me.