Hen and waffles discover a house in Colorado Springs – with a facet of the love way of life

At Al’s Chicken and Waffles, the secret is no secret at all.

It is proclaimed by the words above the kitchen door: “The secret ingredient is always love.”

Al says, “If you don’t have love, you’re not going anywhere.”

And of course, Albert Garrett and his restaurant will be going somewhere in the first year. He envisions a franchise one day to pass on to his family.

Correction: It’s not his restaurant, he says. He pays homage to his grandchildren: Cheryl Cole and her husband Antonio, who met at Sierra High School and stayed in Colorado Springs until they moved to Omaha, Neb., A few years ago.

Then Grandpa called. At 75, he needed some young people to run the business.

“It was something I wanted to do to give him back,” says Cheryl. “I wanted to see him fulfill his dream.”

So here she is, peeling Collard Greens at the kitchen table like she did when she was a child. She sets the leaves aside to chop them and toss them into a large pot of boiling, fragrant turkey-legged water. The side dish, just an Al’s specialty, takes three to five hours to prepare, along with mac and cheese, red beans and rice, and fried okra.

And here Albert is in the hour before the Citadel Crossing store opens, filling syrup cups for the regulars who have already gathered for Al’s sixth month. The logo, created by Cheryl, is taped on the wall: a cartoon chicken standing on a gold waffle, its smile and wings spread wide – as if it wanted to hug the uninitiated of the court.

Since the Egg and I and Jersey Mike use the same parking lot, the usual guests took notice of the new neighbor and looked through the windows with raised eyebrows.

“You can tell you are confused,” says Antonio. “Like, ‘Wow, that’s weird.'”

It’s funny, says Cheryl. Don’t try to persuade them to pair the crispy, flavored bird with the fluffy waffle and sweet, sticky drizzle. The union confuses even the most soulful employees of Adrian Miller, the James Beard Award winning author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time.

“Most of them say, ‘That doesn’t even sound good. Why? “Says the Denver scholar. “It’s like mad scientists.”

He loves chicken and waffles. So does Albert, whose inspiration came from Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles, one of several regional chains to take over the niche pleasure.

Now that Col. Sanders dances with Mrs. Butterworth in commercials, KFC is selling itself as a new home for chicken and waffles. But the finger licking in the city? Al knows the answer.

A more confusing question: where did the combination start?

“What we are asked most is: Are we from the south?” Says Antonio. “No, we don’t come from the south.”

And no, chicken and waffles weren’t born in the South, say food scientists, including Miller, whose story disappointed some in his book.

“The feeling is that chicken and waffles are rock and roll,” he says, “and that white people discovered it and tried to steal it.”

But “chicken and waffles actually come from old Europe,” says Miller. “The German immigrants end up in rural Pennsylvania.” And they resulted in what came to be known as the Pennsylvania Dutch Tradition, with a steamed chicken poured over waffles like gravy.

In the late 1800s, a tasty tourist intrigue was known in the countryside, a concept that was to move south. “Then the creamed chicken is fried,” says Miller.

In the south, fried was the slaves’ preferred method of cooking chicken to protect themselves from spoilage, as white women sent it to men in war. It became an outstanding centerpiece. In “Soul Food” Miller writes that roasted or baked meat “with any kind of hot fast bread was the gold standard of plantation hospitality”.

And while waffles weren’t included in what was believed to be the earliest African American cookbook around 1881, African Americans drove the pairing resurgence over the next century, Miller says.

Chicken and Waffles “fell out of favor for some reason in the early 1900s,” he says, “and I think that gave this Wells guy room to create the myth of the jazz era.”

It is widely believed that the Harlem’s Wells Supper Club sparked the land’s cravings and serves the dish in those dark hours between dinner and breakfast. In the 1970s, a black Harlem man left for Los Angeles to start Roscoe’s chicken and waffle house, which became a staple among black celebrities as well as Gladys Knight’s joints in Atlanta.

Al wants to outdo them all. Here is a much darker point on the menu: Schnitzel and waffles, a reference to Albert’s military service in Germany. For almost half of his 22 years in the army, he cooked and supervised in exhibition halls.

In retirement he returned to Springs, where he made lasting family memories in the kitchen. Cheryl can still smell the gumbo. “The whole neighborhood could smell it,” she says. “They would come to the house and many of them would get a bowl.”

Albert would bake too. His children would surround him, then he would turn around and see more children.

Decorating cakes was a hobby. “I got pretty good at it,” he says, “until a few years ago.”

After the stroke, he tries to keep a steady hand. The pancreatic cancer is in remission, but the bone cancer persists. He gets strength from the Lord, he says. “I hurt, but I don’t care.”

It fulfills a dream, however strange it may be and tastes good to some. No wall hides the cooking at Al so those curious passers-by can walk in with big eyes and find him, a tall man with a soft voice. “Welcome,” he will say.

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