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- Daria Bishop
- Chicken and waffles with a mimosa
Sneakers Bistro's eggs Benedict is legendary. The combo of Canadian bacon, artichoke pesto, poached eggs, hollandaise and housemade English muffins even has "famous" in its name.
The Winooski breakfast and lunch spot, which opened in 1980, has been churning out the dish for as long as anyone can remember; it makes up roughly 30 percent of sales. (Sneakers is also undefeated in the Seven Daysies' "best eggs Benedict" category.)
I thought I'd finally try the famous Benedict ($14) for our monthlong series revisiting enduring local restaurants — our "forever faves" — one dish at a time. But when it comes to my order at Sneakers, there's no waffling. Only chicken and waffling.
I've been stuck on Sneakers' chicken and waffles ($16) since 2012, two years after the restaurant moved down the block to its current location at 28 Main Street. When my now-husband took me there for brunch on one of our first dates, I followed his advice to give the dish a try. I haven't looked at the menu since.
Sneakers didn't invent chicken and waffles. It's a soul food standard with origins linked to both 17th-century Pennsylvania Dutch country and enslaved people in the South, popularized by Black-owned restaurants in 1930s Harlem and 1970s Los Angeles. But it was an unusual menu item around here in the early 2010s, and Sneakers was among the first to turn it from a special into a staple.
The Sneakers version is straightforward: buttermilk-marinated chicken breast, pounded thin, dredged and fried; a big, classic Belgian waffle; rich sausage gravy; and two fried eggs, topped with a smattering of scallions for color. It's not the kind of brunch dish you should plan to do things after.
"It's my favorite, too," general manager Garret Jacobs said. Controversially, we both like it with a hefty drizzle of Vermont maple syrup. "That weirds a lot of people out," he continued. "But the combination of savory and sweet is the thing that makes it what it is."
Jacobs has worked at Sneakers for seven years. When he moved to the Winooski area from Brattleboro, he was looking for a restaurant job and heard that Sneakers was busy, even on weekdays.
"It seemed like good job security if they had a line out the door all the time," Jacobs recalled.
That line is less common these days, thanks to a 100-plus-seat expansion into a former apartment upstairs in 2019. Sneakers used to host waiting crowds next door at the Monkey House in the winter, but now a first-come, first-served online waitlist helps keep things running.
I felt like I'd gamed the system when I joined the 20- to 30-minute queue virtually from Route 7 in Charlotte. It was a Saturday at prime brunch time, but my upstairs table was ready right when I checked in with the host.
It's a tip regulars probably already know, and, as with most longtime restaurants, Sneakers has plenty of them.
"I've seen the same faces every week — or every day — for seven years," Jacobs said. "It's comforting. Seeing these people is an expected part of my day, like clocking in or ordering the liquor."
Like me, many stick to their usual order. Maybe I'll quit waffling next time.
"One Dish" is a series that samples a single menu item — new, classic or fleeting — at a Vermont restaurant or other food venue. Know of a great plate we should feature? Drop us a line: [email protected].