New Jersey Dispatch: Fried Chicken at Last Legg in Somerset
I had driven past Last Legg Chicken and Waffles at least a dozen times and always wondered if it would ever open. After all, with the sort of tinted windows that one associates with a stretch limo, you have no way of knowing what's going on inside. Then one day while stopped at the traffic light out front, I notice some activity—"They must be finally getting ready to open!" I thought. Even though Route 27 needs more great places to eat in the same way Manhattan needs more yellow cabs, I was thrilled.
That afternoon, after driving past three dosa shops, four regional Mexican (from Oaxaca) restaurants, a particularly interesting central African foo foo hut, and two Chinese noodle places, I pulled over at Last Legg. True, the notion of eating fried chicken in a New Jersey restaurant makes me squirm (too far north, right?), but what can taste bad on Route 27? Run by mother and daughter team Rhonda and Channell, and (unrelated) chef Tony, Last Legg brings yet another cuisine to an area blessed by more ethnic restaurants than any other part of the state.
Last Legg may look closed, but those tinted windows make the place comfortable on the inside, and the sight and smell of chicken frying overcame any other apprehensions I might have felt. Moments later, when I had a plate of chicken and waffles in front of me, I saw that Route 27 had worked its magic on yet another cuisine.
Before I go any further, I better clarify one point: Last Legg serves the Harlem version of chicken and waffles, not the Amish. The Amish have a dish by this name too, with a chicken stew over waffles instead of pieces of fried chicken. They're different dishes entirely.
It was Rhonda who asked me, "Why not chicken and waffles? We eat sausage and waffles." Socrates couldn't have ask me a deeper and more thought-provoking question. I found myself thinking about it over with a plate of waffles a few days later while at a diner that was so dull that the regular patrons were sleeping in their booths. At that point, I understood that chicken and waffles were a perfect expression of the modern, urban lifestyle (yes, even I'm part of it). They're foods you eat when day and night collide.
The Last Legg chicken had juicy insides and a crunchy, spicy crust. The waffles had a depth of flavor that was an order of magnitude better than anything I'd had in a dinner. And there were specials: sweet potato waffles, salmon cakes and grits, and classic southern desserts. It all added up to a wonderful combination of Soul and Caribbean with salads and burgers mixed in for the locals.
So when you don't know if you're ready for breakfast, dinner, or a midnight supper, head on over to Last Legg. A waffle, a burger, jerk chicken, fried chicken—it's all there at the same time.
By the way, if the Last Legg has any fault, it's corn-y, over-the-top menu writing. Yes, it says "Fall in Love" on the menu. Just look the other way and concentrate on the food.
453 Somerset Street, Somerset, NJ, 08873 (map)
732 846 8900
Tues. and Wed., 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.; Thurs. to Sat., 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.