The Waffle House chain of eateries numbers 1,200 strong, mostly in the south, southwest and midwest of the United States. The chain's restaurants are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, including Christmas day.
The joy of the Waffle House, in case y'all ain't never been, is the atmosphere. The corporate logo is big, boxy, black letters on a yellow background. Every Waffle House has the same layout inside, like a shotgun shack converted into a diner. Booths are at the front of the restaurant and a counter with implanted barstools faces the grill. Each one also has a jukebox, playing hokey music at all hours.
At any time of night you go in1, you'll find at least one talkative local and a fair smattering of drunks.
Breakfast is cooked round the clock and the company boasts that it sells more T-bone steaks, omelettes, cheese 'n' eggs, grits, raisin toast and waffles than anyone else. Apparently, they make no similar claims for hash browns, but readers of the July 2000 issue of Consumer Reports gave the chain a score of 71 out of 100 for its hash browns.
Oddly, waffles aren't the main item to be found there, although they do enjoy top billing down the left-hand side of the menu. The chain claims to be 'the world's leading server of waffles... over 408,165,000 waffles served since 1955'.
There are free refills of coffee, iced tea, soft drinks and hot tea, and vanilla and cherry syrup are available to go with your Coke. If you've never had a vanilla Coke, give it a go.
Even though most of the menu is devoted to foods that keep cardiologists in expensive cars, there is a 'light corner' consisting of three types of salads. They even sell 'steamed hash browns' on request.
According to the marketing material, 'what really sets Waffle House apart is the unique dining experience that customers receive. The kitchen is out front and in full view. Regulars are greeted by name and enjoy the social interaction with their servers and other customers. All food is prepared fresh, cooked to order, and served on real china with consistent quality from location to location. At Waffle House, customers enjoy sit-down table service with the speed of delivery typically found at fast food establishments.'
And, if there's any national chain where you can convincingly re-enact scenes from the TV show Alice, it has to be Waffle House. The waitresses wear traditional 1960s-style uniforms, and they yell out shorthand codes for food, such as this one for a hash browns order:
Need one smothered, scattered, topped, chopped, diced and covered2.
Perhaps one of the best things about Waffle House restaurants is that whether you're in one in Texas or North Carolina or Ohio, you can rest assured the waitresses sound as if they've been shipped in fresh from Georgia. Either that or they're coached to speak the perfect Southern accent of a Georgia peach.
It's got good artery-clogging food, strange characters, a down-homey atmosphere and it's always open 24 hours. It's nearly perfect.
You'll even forget to laugh when they say with all sincerity, 'Y'all come back now, ya hear?'