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Why'd the chicken cross Olive Avenue?
Charla Franklin was just joking, which she does in this big, booming, boisterous way.
It's kind of how she is.
So, she's at Karsh's Grill and suggests to the owner, in that way she has, that he add chicken and waffles to the menu. She was born in New Orleans, grew up in Los Angeles and has been eating chicken and waffles (yes, together) forever. It's one of the things she missed in Fresno.
“Why don't you do it,” says Franklin, who opened Chameleon Chicken and Waffles with her cousin Drew Jones last month. The restaurant, at 609 E. Olive Ave. (which used to be Karsh's by the way), is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sundays only. The rest of the time the space is used as the banquet room for Karsh's catering company.
Now you're wondering: Chicken AND waffles? Really? On the same plate?
There's no official story as to how the particular combination came to be, but some believe (according to Wikipedia, anyway) it started on Southern plantations, where poultry and waffles were considered delicacies. It's become a special-occasion meal in African American families, “often supplying a hearty Sunday-morning meal before a long day in church.”
Even Franklin doesn't know the why of chicken and waffles.
“I just know I've been eating it since I was a kid,” she says. “We always went out for chicken and waffles.”
In Fresno, there's Chameleon, where the menu is sparse. For $7 you can get chicken — and waffles. You can get your chicken fried or grilled, or you can have hot wings, but that's not the point. It's not meant to be fancy or upscale. It is what it is — pure comfort food, Franklin says.
The kind of meal you need to plan for. She was thinking of holding a waffle eating contest, until she was told it was a dumb idea because there wasn't anybody who could eat more than one.
“It's the one meal you'll eat that day,” she says.
Some say the secret is the waffle iron— the older and more seasoned by years of use, the better. Franklin isn't so sure it matters. Her secret is the milk and the extract she uses to give that little “pop.” The chicken, she batters with a special mix of spices picked up from her grandmother.
Her Southern sweet tea? She won't give up that secret recipe so easy.
The restaurant is only open on Sundays, which works because “in African American communities, Sunday is a big eating day,” Franklin says. But she isn't against opening seven days a week.
“If the demand demands,” she says, then laughs. As expected her laugh is big and boisterous.
And she's already teeming with ideas for the place, which she spits out in rapid-fire succession. Depending on which Sunday you're there, you can play dominoes on the patio, have a CD listening party (good publicity for all you musicians out there) or tell a joke or two during comedy night. She's already planning a Thanksgiving menu for November (think fried turkey instead of chicken) and a birthday party for Michael Jackson (he'll be 50!) at the end of August, which she hopes will include a “Thriller” dance down Olive Avenue.
She's more of a Prince fan, but that's another story, too.
The focus here is on having a good time. And the food. Which leaves us with that burning question: “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Answer that, Franklin says, and she'll give you a free sweet tea.
Here's a hint: It has something to do with the waffle joint on the other side.
Chameleon Chicken and Waffles
10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sundays only
609 Olive Ave.