Chillin’ at the Waffle Ho

The Waffle House restaurant chain doesn’t get a lot of love from many people, particularly foodies.

I beg to differ. There are lots of reasons to like Waffle Ho. (We call it that because of a sign with three letters that weren’t illuminated. But I digress.)

First is the so-called Waffle House Index, a measure that FEMA uses to help determine disaster response. Basically, the idea is that if the Waffle House in a given location is closed due to weather, then a disaster is dire indeed. It’s unofficial, but there’s some truth to it. Waffle House is noted for remaining open 24/7/365, and for one of the restaurants to close, there has to be something significantly wrong. During lesser disasters, Waffle House may provide only a limited menu and call in backup staff, but it will by-God remain open.

(I once worked at a Frisch’s, which is not quite as ubiquitous as Waffle House nor as iconic. When the power went out, we kept serving food that didn’t require cooking, like salads or ham and cheese sandwiches, or that would last a while through residual heat, like coffee. Any weather more severe than that and we were outa there. But I digress again.)

Then there’s the food. Say what you will about diner food, but there is a place for it, and that place is the Waffle Ho. Sure, they’re deficient when it comes to desserts (there are several varieties of waffles, naturally), but when it comes to breakfast and lunch (and dinner – there’s steak), they have everything a diner diner could want. (They have eliminated omelets from their menu, but not from their repertoire. You can still get them if you ask, which I do – mushroom and cheese for me; fiesta for Dan. More digression.) But if you believe that the four food groups are salt, fat, carbs, and caffeine, you’re in luck. They don’t have a breakfast buffet like some places, but if you prefer to chow down rather than graze, Waffle Ho is the best bet.

Dan and I also love the Waffle Ho because of that whole 24/7 thing. Our work schedules (and our sleep schedules) have been, well, irregular over the years. Waffle Ho is always there when we need them. Sometimes, if we wake up at 2:00 a.m., we’ll say, “Let’s go to the Waffle Ho,” and stay there until we’re ready to try once again to sleep. Waffle House is also a lifesaver when the heating or cooling is out. Many a time we’ve gone there in searing summers to cool off with endless iced tea when it’s too hot to sleep.

It’s also fun to order hash browns. You have to know the lingo. First, you should order them “scattered,” if you don’t want hash browns that look like a squashed bird nest. Then you specify what else you want in or on them – diced (tomato), capped (mushrooms), smothered (onions), melted (American cheese), chunked (smoked ham), peppered (jalapenos), topped (chili), and country (sausage gravy). I don’t feel like doing the math, but the combinations, if not endless, are at least extensive.

The only places in the US with no Waffle Houses are Vermont, Nebraska, Michigan, Utah, Iowa, the District of Columbia, Wyoming, and American Samoa.

I pity them, along with those who disdain the chain. It’s convenient, unpretentious, and predictable (in the comforting way), which is more than you can say for more upscale places. Cheaper, too.

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