It had been too long, Sherrel and I agreed, since our last stop on the Indiana Fried Chicken Tour. Buying and moving into a new home had consumed his time for weeks. By the time he had settled in, I had turned in my notice at the company where we both worked. We knew we had to squeeze in one more stop on the Tour before I moved on.
We knew just where we would go: Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles. We had been once before, hoping to sample their fried-chicken dinner. The hour round trip to Maxine’s downtown Indianapolis location (132 N. East Street) from our Carmel office meant we were pushing the lunch hour’s limits. After we arrived, we learned that fried-chicken perfection took 35 minutes, time we just didn’t have.
So we settled for their signature chicken and waffles. If you’ve never had this dish, let me assure you that it is delicious. The enormous chicken wings go startlingly well with the crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the inside waffles, especially when you douse them in syrup. Our lunch was so fresh and good that we vowed to return. We figured we could call ahead to order the full fried chicken dinner.
When I became a short-timer in our office, let’s just say that on-time returns from lunch became less of a priority. Our return visit to Maxine’s was a certainty.
Maxine’s is in a newish building shared with one of downtown’s few gas stations – an odd pairing, to be sure. But when you step inside you forget all about the fueling going on.
Malissa, our waitress, appeared directly to take our drink order. She returned straightaway with our unsweet iced tea and a plate of little cornbread pancakes laid around a dollop of peach butter. The cornbread was moist and slightly sweet; the peach butter was creamy and sweet but not very peachy. Maybe I should have slathered more on the bread to get the full peach flavor.
Our dinners came with a small salad, fresh and crisp, of head lettuce, tomatoes, onion, and sharp cheddar. The onions were pungent and strong, surprisingly so, and were this simple salad’s highlight. Unremarkable croutons and ranch dressing (served on the side) rounded out the salad.
Sherrel called Maxine’s from the parking lot at work to put in our chicken order, and the golden-brown goodness arrived shortly after we finished our salads.
I ordered my traditional sides of green beans and mashed potatoes with gravy. Sherrel got the potatoes and fried green tomatoes. My green beans were mushy, but at least they had good, slightly spicy flavor and weren’t fatty. A tomato slice and a ring of that strong onion topped and complemented them. The mashed potatoes were the best we’ve had on the Tour. There was no question about their origin: these were genuine mashed potatoes – unquestionably neither whipped nor instant as they were full of little potato chunks. They delivered solid, straight up potato flavor, with only a hint of the milk or cream that was holding them together. Maxine’s clearly chooses excellent quality potatoes. The gravy that topped them was slightly sweet and a little too fatty. A dash of salt improved it. Sherrel declared the fried green tomatoes to be fine, especially with the supplied sauce, but didn’t elaborate.
At last I dove into the chicken, the main event. Maxine’s delivers four pieces with each order, either all dark meat or all white meat. I ordered the white, Sherrel ordered the dark, and we traded two pieces so we could each experience the whole chicken.
The coating was thin and crisp. I guessed that this was a simple flour dredge. But later Sherrel wondered whether Maxine’s uses crushed corn flakes in its coating. I think he may be right. The coating was mildly seasoned, perhaps only with a little salt.
It works because the dense, tender meat carries deep, rich chicken flavor. Maxine’s is buying high-quality birds, easily the finest meat we’ve experienced on the Tour. Actually, this was the most inherently flavorful bird I’ve ever eaten. They don’t adorn it with thick, highly seasoned coating because this meat doesn’t need it; it speaks for itself. My only quibble was that the breast was a tiny, tiny, tiny bit dry.
My meal was $17.75. Sherrel’s dark-meat order was about a buck less. (That’s him over there, hard at work on his dinner.) This was a great experience, made even better by Malissa, who served us with a giant smile, an infectious great attitude, and an uncanny ability to appear at our table at the exact moments we needed her.
As Sherrel and I drove back to the office, we vowed that we would keep the Tour going despite it being more complicated now to schedule stops. Altogether too often our chicken quest was continued merely because we happened to pass each other in the hallway and one of us cried, “Chicken!” We must redouble our efforts; this is too much fun.