I used to joke that in order to get a job at the Waffle House you had to be an ex-con. And if you looked close enough, you could actually see the leg chain that shackled the line cook to the base of the grill. Obviously that’s not true, but if you’ve gone into the ‘wrong’ Waffle House after a late night at the club, you know it ain’t completely false, either.
Still, there’s something about the place that keeps me going back every once in a while. Maybe it’s because they’re as common in Georgia as kudzu or springtime pollen. Perhaps it’s the fact that – good or bad– EVERY trip to the waffle house is an experience (Seriously, have you ever been to a Waffle House and left without an interesting story to tell?). Or it could be that it’s the perfect place to go when I’m missing mama and grandma and want somebody to call me ‘baby’ and ‘sugah’ while they serve me food that I KNOW isn’t good for me but tastes soooo right.
It’s a Saturday and I’ve foregone my usual laziness, instead opting to go out and run some early morning errands. Feeling proud that I’m up, dressed, and finished with most of my to-dos before noon, I decide to reward myself with a little breakfast. Cresting a hill, I spy that familiar sign – two simple words spelled out in garish yellow squares – and I feel an instant twinge of nostalgia. As soon as I ask myself, “Should I…?” my stomach responds with an approving grumble, and my hands comply by turning the steering wheel towards the parking lot.
I’m greeted at the door by one of the waitresses whose name I’m certain is either Flo or Gladys or Shirley or something very similar. I choose an empty seat at the counter and she hands me a menu. I’m instantly absorbed in the familiar quick-order cacophony of jangling silverware and clanking dishes, sizzling food on grill, punctuated by the shrill voices of waitresses hollering out orders in a drawling language only spoken here:
“Pull! One chicken plate! Drop 2 hashbrowns! 1 scattered, covered, and diiiced, 1 scattered, covered, smothered, and chunked!”
Welcome to the House.
Immediately the grill cook – a big dude with his hair tied back in a long, Boo-Ya Tribe ponytail (leg-chain missing) gets to work. He adds a new round of oil to the griddle, and begins grabbing additional supplies from the nearby fridge, then sets to rhythmically flipping, scrambling, and shifting all the items on the grill. It’s just as much performance art as it is sheer short-order genius.
As I wait for my tried-and-true order of a waffle, a side of sausage, and hash browns – scattered, covered, and smothered, I ponder a couple of stickers positioned above the grill. Both are written in Waffle-speak. 1 reads: ‘Don’t Turn and Burn’, and the other:
‘Kill the Flame and Get in the Game’.
Soon, the meaning of the latter becomes apparent. In a 5-minute lull in the steady flow of customers and orders, the floors are swept, the waffle irons de-crusted, and napkin dispensers refilled. All the while, the staff exchanges sassy comments and witty replies. Everything here – including the banter – moves with a sort of synchronized, snappy timing.
After I finish my meal and pay the check, the waitress who served me drawls loudly from across the room, “Okay, huuun. You have a good day now!
I find myself inadvertently drawling back, “Yes ma’am, you tooooo!”
5565 Northside Drive NW
Atlanta, GA 30327
(and many, many other locations with many, many other stories)