There is a lot about Kitchen 1454 that might look and taste familiar, but this isn’t your typical home-cooked Southern meal.
Chef Edward Mendoza – Augusta State graduate, former Le Cordon Bleu instructor and former personal chef to Dallas big shots – has come back to the town where he grew up and converted an old Waffle King on Walton Way into what will rapidly become a culinary destination.
Within walking distance of the medical community’s share of downtown, Kitchen 1454 is open for breakfast and lunch during the week for fast, diner-style eating. Hearty morning dishes including pancakes, omelets and breakfast tacos are served up until 10:30 a.m. The lunch service has standard deli items such as cold salads, soups and Jerk chicken, and marinated portabella sandwiches and hot dogs.
And then there are the heavier, nap-inducing Southern meals that are a mix-and-match of vegetable sides to pair with an item from the meat group.
That part of the menu features traditional choices such as meatloaf, collard greens and other standing options, but some items bring altogether unique textures and flavors to Southern fare, including the Coca-Cola braised pulled pork, one of the chef’s specialties.
On my recent visit, I went straight for the fried chicken breast with sides of mashed sweet potatoes and pan-seared bok choy, one of the seasonal veggies.
Fried chicken can be a challenge to execute well, but this one – finished with flecks of sea salt – was nearly perfect. First off, it came out steaming hot but not greasy at all. The only moisture in that crunchy-coated meat was all the juice from the chicken itself. Tender and moist on the inside, but satisfyingly loud with every bite were qualities that made this bird shine.
I’m not a sweet potato fanatic but I chose this side dish because I was craving a holiday flavor, and these really delivered. They were whipped with cinnamon to an applesauce consistency, which gave them a warm, silky and smooth texture.
The bok choy was a curveball, but you couldn’t beat the freshness. This type of cabbage is prevalent in Asian cooking. Thick, vibrant greens make them an exotic stand-in for collards. The preparation was a quick toss in a hot pan with sesame oil. The bok choy had a leafy texture and its natural tinge of bitterness was well-suited to the sweetness of the potatoes and the extra salt on the chicken.
The amount of care and precision put into the food’s preparation surprised me at first. After all, you can take a Waffle King out of a building, but you can’t really strip it of its Waffle King charms, right? But the advantage to this open-kitchen concept is that I was able to hear and smell my meal at every stage before my plate hit the table. The crackle of chicken in a fryer and the fragrance of bok choy as it hit the oil was a feast for the senses that I don’t experience every day.
Like so many of the best restaurants I’ve visited, this chef subscribes to the principle that using local ingredients is not only a better way, it’s the only way to build the freshest, most delicious and most affordable meals. The chicken, eggs, dairy, coffee and fruit all come from within a short drive, and everything on the menu is under $10.
I’m certain we will be seeing more of Chef Mendoza’s talent around town, but for the time being, he and his Kitchen 1454 crew are succeeding in making what’s soul new again.