I like the Waffle House, though maybe not enough to actually go there and eat. However, I am married to a woman who loves that place so much that she wants to get the logo tatted on her thigh.
We used to always have that classic debate about what spot hits better on a road trip: Do we stop at Cracker Barrel or do we stop at the Waffle House?
"Cracker Barrel is weird," my wife argues, "And why does every location have a store in the front? It's overrated."
For years, I tried to convince her that the catfish and grits at Cracker Barrel are top-tier and far superior to anything that the Waffle House has ever dreamed of serving.
"The Waffle House sucks!" I always pushed back, "They still use American cheese, which is extremely pedestrian, and only sells pork products. Why would they sell scrapple? Don't they know slavery is over?"
So, one day, I talked her into eating with me at Cracker Barrel because she just had to be ordering the wrong items when left to her own devices–– and it was up to me to mansplain to the server what we wanted and how it should be prepared. Of course, like always, my wife was right. Cracker Barrel had lost a step; the fish wasn't as good as it used to be, and the grits were as lumpy as an unpaved road. Our last two visits to Waffle House, before I finally convinced her to try Cracker Barrel, were so much better that I didn't feel confident recommending food for like a year. During that year, we also had our first experience figuring out ways to survive a global pandemic.
Home-cooked meals became mandatory for everybody. And as you can imagine, many of us became bored with our regular go-to cuisines and became hungry to explore new menu items. We bought a waffle maker, and I started experimenting with all types of blueberry, pecan, and banana waffles. I was using that 365 Whole Foods brand until my wife found out you could actually order Waffle House mix.
"The Waffle House mix is sweeter and I like it more," she said, "They also sell those hash browns I love. You should start making those, too."
Soon, I fell in love with that Waffle House mix and realized how easy it is to make smothered hash browns. You literally soak the box of potatoes in water, drain that water, throw the potatoes in a pan with some chopped onions, fry them to a light crisp and dump all the cheese you feel comfortable with on top — perfection. We ate those beautiful, sweet waffles and smothered hash browns every weekend until round two or three of the COVID vaccine dropped.
So, I had no complaints for my wife when she recommended we stop at a Waffle House on our way back home to Baltimore from Delaware last week. We pulled it into a location, and the only thing happier than the look on my face was the feeling in my belly because I knew I was about to be blessed with the waffles I had been attempting to make on my own over the past three years.
Alas, my heart shattered into 1,000 pieces when I entered the dirty restaurant. We tried to give the staff grace. Maybe they were short a few crew members or just had a rush and didn't get a chance to tidy up. Our trio — my wife, daughter and I — found a booth covered with dirty dishes in the corner. After sitting for about eight minutes, someone came to remove them and we discovered about 15 ants.
Under normal circumstances, we wouldn't tolerate one ant. However, the young server drenched the table with a bleachy rag and proceeded to take our order. After about 15 minutes, the young server came back to us and said, "I forgot to put your order in because we were so busy." There were about eight customers in the restaurant and damn near the same number of employees. My wife and I were rich in grace that day because we extended more as we waited for our waffles, grits and hash browns.
By the time our food came out, the little family of ants or their surviving cousins had returned, probably looking for the pack of ants that had just been killed with bleach. We couldn't take anymore. Sadly, we'll probably never go again unless it's a different location at 3:00 in the morning, and we are starving with no other options in a 100-mile radius.
On the flip side, we still love Waffle House when it's at its best — and that might just mean making Waffle House at home.
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