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Waffle home

Joseph Monardo | Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The yellow squares and black block letters clearly mark each restaurant and now appear vividly in my mind as I crave the All-Star Breakfast. For me, Waffle House has recently become a main subject of my homesickness. When I tire of dining hall food, I turn to Culver’s or Penn Station, but nothing can serve as a worthy substitute for Waffle House.

I am an Atlanta native, and proud of it. I am proud of Coca-Cola, Chik-fil-a, Outkast, T.I. and countless other great things to come out of my home state. I wouldn’t necessarily include Waffle House as a source of Georgia pride, though. One of my roommates, a Philadelphia native, told me that he ate at a Waffle House once, and that it was “disgusting.”

“No it’s not!” was my immediate reaction. Well, maybe it is, but we love it anyway. This is why I wouldn’t hold Wa-Ho up as a prime example of Georgia’s greatness, because it is what it is, and what it is isn’t very impressive on the surface.

But behind underwhelming furnishings and sometimes questionable cleanliness of each restaurant in the now semi-national chain lie a veritable southern experience and some delicious food. The centerpiece of the Waffle House experience is undoubtedly the All Star, a breakfast platter that never fails to disappoint. For under $7 you can walk into any Waffle House in the country and get a waffle (a pecan waffle please), two eggs (scrambled), grits or hash browns (hash browns covered and diced), bacon, sausage or ham (sausage) and your choice of toast (raisin toast).

The hash browns merit a language of their own, as “covered” correlates to melted cheese, “smothered” to onions, “capped” to mushrooms, “country” to sausage gravy, etc. This structure speaks to the nature of the restaurant as a kind of insider’s club. That is certainly not to say that outsiders are unwelcome (don’t worry, the menu will guide you through the hash brown possibilities), and in fact quite the contrary is true.

In high school, the co-founder of Waffle House came to speak to a Leadership in Society class that I was in. He said many things, obviously, but I remember one thing very clearly: “We can take someone who is happy,” he said, “and teach them how to cook a lot easier than we can take someone who can cook and teach them to be happy.” Accordingly, the company’s employees at every location I have ever been to have been kind, warm and engaging.

But still, even while I would encourage anyone to go to Waffle House, I’m not sure that anyone not from the Peach State would be able to experience it as I do. In this sense, the restaurant is an insider’s club, as the things that make it so special are individual associations that I, and so many other Georgians, have made between Waffle House and something else. Because I link in my mind the black and yellow signs, the delicious waffles and the signature atmosphere of the restaurant with home, I embrace Waffle House in full, even the aspects that might not seem to be especially appealing.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.