Comfort-food menu includes chicken and waffles

Yams and collards lend a touch of Southern soul at ShamDanai's


January 09, 2003|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Have some pie, urged the dreadlocked man sitting near the front of ShamDanai's, Baltimore's first chicken-and-waffle restaurant. He added that he made them himself.

Well, who could say no to that? Though we were already full, we ordered two pies, Southern sweet potato and apple, as well as a wedge of the pound cake that looked so pretty in the pastry case.

Ever the difficult customer, I asked for whipped cream on my apple pie. Though it wasn't on the menu, the low-key and efficient waitress said no problem.

She neglected to mention it would be nondairy, from-a-can topping. But the ersatz topping couldn't detract from the pie, with its flaky crust and apples that were a little firm, a little sweet and a little tart.

The sweet-potato pie was just as good, with its moist, nutmeg-tinged filling, and the pound cake was so rich we could almost see the butter oozing out of the hefty, lemony slab.

Turns out the man with the dreadlocks was none other than Sham Hodges himself, who owns ShamDanai's with his wife, Danielle.

The Hodgeses began selling home-baked pies from their home when they moved from New York to Baltimore about three years ago. They opened the restaurant on Eastern Avenue last May, at the site of the former Costa's European Pastries.

The Hodgeses didn't change the interior much, except to add some works by local artists. Even the wooden, African-looking giraffe that sits under the staircase came with the place, Sham Hodges said, as did the old-fashioned rocking horse that guards the cozier upstairs dining room, with its brick walls and wood floors.

Downstairs, a large steel-and-glass pastry cabinet dominates the room, now filled with pies and cakes, as well as a few loaves of store-bought bread, still in their plastic wrappers. (Note to the Hodgeses: Lose the bread.)

The chicken-and-waffle combo appears to have been invented in the '30s in Harlem, N.Y., then exported to California in the '70s. Since then, cities such as Dallas and Atlanta have acquired chicken-and-waffle houses. Now, so has Baltimore.

The menu at ShamDanai's is not extensive. Waffle meals consist of either baked or fried chicken, lake trout or catfish, served with a large waffle. On the soul-food side, there is chicken, fish, ribs or buffalo wings, served with a choice of two sides.

The sides are a study in Southern-style comfort food, and include macaroni and cheese (called baked macaroni), candied yams and collards. If you want sides with your waffle meal, you'll have to pony up an additional $3 for each. Your table will be groaning with food for around $12.

The macaroni and cheese consisted of perfectly cooked elbows and rich orange cheddar cheese that filled the bowl in savory clumps.

Collards can be tricky, and the ones we had were a little too strong-tasting. The candied yams, though, were velvety slabs of vegetable that combined hefty doses of sugar and butter with that beta carotene.

Though chicken is key to the restaurant's identity, I liked my catfish just as much as I did the meaty fried chicken wings and tender baked chicken that my dining companions ordered. The fish was moist and mild, with a beautiful golden crust and no hint of fishy flavor.

Though the waffles were light, they were so large that none of us could finish them. Just as well -- that left more room for those wonderful desserts.


Where: 4701-03 Eastern Ave.

Call: 410-558-2110

Prices: Salads and sandwiches $2.75 to $5; meals $3.50 to $9

Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa

Food:*** 1/2

Atmosphere: ** 1/2

Service: ***

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