A Dozen Dives: Lucky J's Chicken & Waffles

 
 
12 places we're drawn to in spite of ourselves. And sometimes in spite of themselves.
 
Day 6: Lucky J’s Chicken & Waffles
5035 Burnet Road. 524-2917, www.luckyjs.com.
 
12/13 UPDATE: Lucky J's has closed its brick-and-mortar location.
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 04.14.12
 
Can you call a place that swipes your credit card across an iPad a dive? When that iPad wears a turban of blue duct tape, yes. But use the affectionate application of the word, because if there’s one thing Lucky J’s needs more than your business, it’s for you to cut them a little slack. Misfortune has dogged owner Jason Umlas on a near-biblical scale since he opened his first Lucky J’s trailer in April 2009, with tragedy and personal upheaval compounded by the theft of his trailer on Christmas Day 2010, then the demolition of that same trailer by a drunk driver a year later. What does the “J” stand for? Lucky Job’s, maybe, with a long “o.” A deep-fried test of faith.
 
He’s tested that faith with a storefront on Burnet Road. It’s on fire with optimistic graphic energy, stenciled with the black, red and yellow poultry and pretty ladies of artist Federico Archuleta’s dreams. A tiny front room with four tables takes a short rise into an ordering den with wood floors and more yellow-red fever and twin windows framed in black tile for ordering and pickup. And when it’s busy, the room fills with air you can each out and touch, hovering like breaded oxygen molecules.
 
What you’re eating: The 2X2, two pieces of bone-in fried chicken and two waffles for $9. I’ve had the $5 waffle cones from the trailer version of Lucky J’s at Sixth and Waller, and boneless fried chicken just isn’t the same animal, whether it’s wrapped in a waffle or not, and especially when it’s cut with bacon and Swiss cheese and honey and hot sauce and other things that are neither chicken nor waffles. 
 
No, the things that make Lucky J’s more than lucky are the bones and skin and white and dark meat of chicken dredged in flour and a blend of 17 spices. Not just a suicide blend where everything turns the flavor of seasoned salt. I can pick out crystal notes of sage, rosemary, thyme and cayenne. Drizzled with syrup from tab-top pitchers, it’s an all-day party of crunch, spice and sweetness propelled by thin round waffles like honeycombed subwoofers.
 
What you’re drinking: The dive-friendly joy of BYOB means you can pack in your own chicken-friendly beers like Real Ale’s Lost Gold IPA or Stash IPA from Independence. Or raise a glass of sparkling wine and say, “Fried chicken and champagne? Why the hell not?” in sardonic real-dive salute to Max’s Wine Dive, the downtown dive-that-isn’t.
 
More options: I mentioned the $5 waffle cones, and self-doubt will eventually drive me to try the Thai Die version, with chicken, fried banana, peanut butter, sriracha and honey. But I’ll have to be much more intoxicated than I am at lunch. If you need vegetables, then fried green tomatoes and fried pickles are $3. Looking southward beyond the fried, Umlas stews collard greens with sugar, vinegar and pork for a swampy $$2.99 dish, the same price he charges for cheese and sunlight over fat corkscrew pasta for mac and cheese that’s better than we have a right to expect from a two-room chicken joint.
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)