I was in high school the first time I rambled through the south with my dad. I grew up in New England, a region that has dodged the cancerous development of strip malls, Targets, and such — well, at least when compared to most of the nation’s newer cities.
Dad was considering taking a healthcare job in Georgia, and part of his three-day interview package included a guided tour of Atlanta’s suburbs with a recommended realtor. Bored to numbness by countless cookie-cutter houses in umpteen gated communities, I blurred my eyes as we zipped between neighborhoods, passing throngs of shopping plazas and gas stations.
Then something caught my attention. It was a large sign with eleven yellow squares, arranged in two rows. “Waffle House,” I pondered silently, “Hmm… sounds fantastic.”
Though the road felt straight, I was certain we were driving in circles, because I saw the yellow waffle restaurant again, and again, and again. Finally, I had to inquire.
“That awful place?” The realtor narrowed her eyes, adjusted the rearview mirror, and aimed her disdainful look in the direction of the back seat, “There’s one a’ them on every corner in Georgia.”
She was right, and she was clearly not about to pull over so I could bask in the glow of the white globe lights or find solace under the black and yellow awning. Much to my chagrin, my longing went unfulfilled the entire trip, and I returned to the north with a nagging curiosity.
The Waffle House is a paradoxical entity, inspiring blissful approval in some and scathing hatred in others. It is at once a blight on the landscape and an all-hours sanctuary to anyone with hunger pangs and five bucks to spend. Finding a yellow waffle hut is as easy as finding an exit on a southern interstate, yet many locals flatly refuse to darken its doors.
Marveling since childhood at the glories of round-the-clock diners (rarities in my parts), I have been smitten with the south’s waffle paradise since I first laid eyes on it nearly 15 years ago. Traversing the remote southern freeways, these glowing restaurants, piercing the dark night from their offramp perches, offer the road-weary traveler a soothing cocktail of of carbs, salts, and sugars any hour of the day. I have downed decent Waffle House coffee at 2:00 am, and I have scarfed their steak sandwich on Texas toast at 5:30 am. I’ve enjoyed their pie at noon and a pile of hashbrowns — scattered, covered, diced, smothered, and chunked (any Waffle House fan knows exactly what I’m talking about) — at suppertime.
But the establishment freckling America’s landscape is not called Coffee House, Chili House, Pie House, or T-bone House. If you find yourself hungry somewhere between points ‘A’ and ‘B’, make the day grand and order yourself a waffle at ‘America’s Place to Work, America’s Place to Eat.’ In a matter of minutes you will be greeted by a perfectly fluffy, steaming hot, four-sectioned masterpiece, topped with a still-packaged mini-tub of butter and accompanied by a sticky-handled clear bottle of thick, sugary syrup.
‘Perfection’ is not an overstatement. Waffles this good, and readily available at every exit in huge swathes of our beloved country, should be cherished as a national treasure. As you journey down the road through America’s nothingness, look for the yellow glow on the horizon, and find all the comforts of the neighborhood greasy spoon a million miles away.
Are you a fan of Waffle House? Can’t stand it? Is it a curse or a blessing? And what is your standby order at 3:00 in the morning?