At Doug E.’s, chicken and waffles will set you back $8.
Rapper, human beatbox, and scientologist Doug E. Fresh wanted to start a restaurant as a source of employment and training for youth in his Harlem neighborhood. In April 2007, a store at the corner of 132nd and Adam Clayton Powell appeared, clad in shiny metal and colorfully emblazoned “Doug E.’s.”
The gleaming exterior of Doug E.’s
During 2008, he appeared on several talk shows boasting about the new place, but it never managed to open. Finally, after an inexplicable delay of over three years, Doug E.’s debuted a month ago. The blogs were alive with the news, with a couple of doubters on the Harlem boards exclaiming, “Well, it’s just a fast-food spot.”
Indeed it is, specializing in the combination of waffles and fried chicken made famous by Wells Restaurant, a Harlem Renaissance hot spot that opened in 1938 and closed for the first time in 1984, though it has occasionally been revived since then. It was located one block north of Doug E.’s on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, and was open nightly till the wee hours.
As with the shiny exterior, the interior of Doug E.’s is mainly stainless steel, though one electric-blue blazes with wild-style tags that say things like “Love” and “Laugh.” The tables are all metal, too, with a few stools looking out the window arranged along an eating counter.
Like its predecessor in the chicken and waffle trade, Doug E.’s also serves a perfunctory Caribbean menu, consisting of curry chicken, jerk chicken, and rice ‘n peas — though there was no jerk available on our visit. Actually the curry chicken, which tasted slightly of bouillon, was the best thing we tried. It was a particularly rich rendition, including two pieces of chicken, shallots, and a potato or two ($5 plain, $6.50 with fries, $8.50 with two sides).
Six sides are available, including the most obvious soul-food items. The collards were especially good, loaded down with crushed garlic and properly salty. The mac and cheese was fine, too, though no better than you can get in any soul-food spot in the vicinity.
The curried chicken was actually better than the fried chicken.
The fried chicken was lightly dusted with flour and fried, skin intact. The bird had an herby flavor, which was welcome and not overbearing. The waffle was standard for Harlem — made from a mix incorporating artificial maple flavor, which used to drive me nuts, but now I’m used to it. There was some cinnamon, too. The waffles are made on grate irons that sit in the front window, masked from the street, which is too bad, because the sight of waffles being made might be a big lure.
So, to sum up, Doug E.’s is better than decent, though the menu is startlingly unambitious (the steam table has twice as many receptacles as are actually in use). I’d give it an overall “B” grade. Shrimp and fish are also available, both breaded and fried in a similar manner. More menu items may eventually appear.
Maybe Doug E.’s is undergoing the uptown equivalent of a slow opening. A very slow opening.