To those of you who have never ventured into the southern part of the U.S., the words Waffle House don’t mean much. But to the people of the South, the Waffle House is an establishment; like Starbucks in Seattle or In N Out in Southern California. Yet I can’t really compare it to anything we west-coasters know because I don’t think we have any place quite like it.
For starters, there are a lot of them. I mean they are everywhere in the South. You can hardly go a mile in a city and not run into the distinctive giant yellow block sign. Then of course, they are all open twenty four hours a day. That makes it THE place to go after a night of drunken partying. You never saw a place as busy as a Waffle House at around two in the morning. Or eleven in the morning. And the food there is CHEAP. So cheap I did not believe it the first time I went.
I have a theory that there is some town, farm, or factory assembly line where they are churning out the people who work at Waffle Houses. I have been to one in at least three different states now and the people working there are like clones of each other no matter where I go or what kind of town the place is in. They say a picture is worth a thousand words…
Since we’re talking about a restaurant I guess I should say something about the food. I can’t speak to the variety on the menu, although its definitely there. You can get breakfast, lunch, or dinner any time of day or night. I’ve only eaten one thing every time I’ve gone and its so damn good that I don’t know if I will ever bother trying something different: scrambled eggs with cheese, hash browns, raisin toast with apple butter (extra apple butter), and a side of country ham. That meal is probably a coronary served on a plate but I don’t know for sure and I don’t want to know.
As for the rest of the menu, I have no doubt it is great. How do I know without having tried any of it? Well that’s easy — Waffle House told me. In fact if you were to believe the signage at this place, you would think it was the finest dining establishment in the country. The claims made include, but are most definitely not limited to:
- America’s Best Coffee
- America’s Best Chicken
- World’s leading server of REAL hash browns
- World’s leading server of waffles
Hopefully that list gives you an idea of the important contribution Waffle House makes to enhancing America’s culinary reputation. I had trouble finding them in my copy of the Michelin Guide but I’m sure that’s because I have an out of date copy. It is amazing that they can serve such great food at such dirt-cheap prices. My meal of choice can be had for between $5.50 and $6.50 depending on the area and it is a big breakfast! Those prices put IHOP, Denny’s, and any other wannabe late-night breakfast-serving place to shame.
Oh yeah, don’t forget all the immitators either. For those times when the Waffle House is too pricey, fancy, or busy you are welcome to try your luck at the local Waffle King or Omelet House. These places lurk notoriously close to their Waffle House brethren. They also sport block-letter signs that look a lot like the Waffle House one. I haven’t been to these places but natives tell me they’re even cheaper and grimier than the standard-issue Waffle House.
Despite (because of?) all this, I have to say I love the Waffle House. I love the food, the hours, the cookie-cutter locations and people, and the kitschy small-town diner feel of it. I wish we had one on every corner out west just like back in the South. But I doubt we would be able to recreate them out here. I don’t think we have the people out here to run them and I doubt anyone would dare serve my cheese and eggs breakfast for anything less than $10 in Los Angeles. I guess my cravings for country ham will just have to wait for my infrequent visits to the South then.