I’m happy to have Tio Wally (long-time Me So Hungry reader) aboard to send in his eating adventures from across America. Here he is in Kansas City, Kansas.
Greetings from Kansas City, Kansas
N 39° 5.3884′ W 094° 40.8916’ Elev. 771 ft.
Every boulevard boater knows basic things about Interstates and Highways, like how the numbering works: Odd numbers run South-North; even numbers West-East. The logic of it is pretty simple. The lower the number the further south or west it is, respectively.
Mile markers are likewise numbered the same way (South-to-North, West-to-East), with the mile-count restarting at state lines. Thus, if you’re on Interstate 5 and pass mile marker 2 and then mile marker 1, you’re either going to: cross the Columbia River into Oregon; have climbed the Ashland grade into California; or need to get out your passport because you’ll be entering Mexico shortly.
There is a little known fact about the system, however, even the savviest street sailor is likely to be unaware of. That Wikipedia-worthy nugget of knowledge is how Interstates and Highways were laid out in the Southeast. Specifically, how they were laid out south of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of the Mississippi River. It, too, is very simple and, if you’ve ever been to the Southeast, easy to visually verify.
Years ago the government hired a bunch of hungry surveyors to lay out the highway system in the Southeast. Pre-GPS surveying was an inexact science, at best, and a hunger-inducing endeavor. The surveyors needed uniform, immovable reference points. As there was nowhere else nearby to eat bad food cheaply, the surveyors used the nearest available source of low-brow viddles that served sweet tea: Waffle House. Plus, the bumblebee color scheme provided the ideal, easy-to-see reference points.
Now you know why there is a Waffle House wherever two highways intersect or a road crosses an Interstate. You simply can’t avoid finding one of the low-budget, low-quality yellow-and-black restaurants with the cruel decor at nearly every exit on every Interstate in every state in the Southeast.
Jason once wrote about Waffle House. He liked the hash browns. I think it’s important to understand that J-Lam grew up eating at Wa-Hos in Flo-Duh, so maybe it’s a fond childhood memory sort of thing. And let’s not forget that he ate that duck embryo thing. He has told me that he and his friends never ordered waffles at Waffle House.
I find Waffle House’s hash browns lacking on every level, regardless of what they throw on them. You can order them Plain, Scattered, Covered, Chunked, Diced, Peppered, Capped, Topped or Country. What does that mean? Well, with nothing added, or with onions, cheese, ham, tomatoes, Jalapeño peppers, mushrooms, chili, or sausage gravy, respectively. They charge 50¢ for the first two toppings, 45¢ for any others. But regardless of how you top them the “suckage” is free. It’s a Waffle House tradition.
I should mention that mushrooms are a relatively recent addition to the Waffle House cache of culinary debasements. For a while they were offering a curious “mushroom gravy” that could be added to burgers, pork chops or any other food you wanted to abuse with that Waffle House magic. I had it once, on pork chops, and it was, well, curiously terrible. They’ve since jettisoned it from their alimentary arsenal. Truly a good move.
I rarely eat at Waffle House. When I do it’s usually for a waffle fix. They actually make decent, old-fashioned American waffles, not those Belgian bastardizations with the too-deep holes that every restaurant in the country wants to foo up with fruit and whipped cream and other sundry crimes against (waffle) nature.
In the past a waffle at Waffle House cost only a couple of dollars and you could add another one for a buck. Now they’re $3.05 for one; $4.04 for two. On my last visit, however, I was overcharged a full penny for my pair of waffles. And I brought my own … oh, wait, I’ll explain that in a minute.
Waffle House is actually capable of making a workable, edible waffle. They used to offer them in three incarnations: regular, buttermilk and pecan. They’ve now eliminated either the regular or the buttermilk. I can’t tell which because, after having both on the same plate at the same time, I couldn’t tell the difference.
The secret to getting a decent waffle at Waffle House is to ask them to make it extra crispy — “Cook it ’til you think it’s burning,” I tell them, with an approximately 3% perfect success rate — otherwise you get a mushy waffle, a “Mushfle”, if you will. In my humble yet extraordinarily well-informed opinion, mushy waffles are not only NOT fun, they constitute another borderline criminal act. They’re just not waffle-y.
You’d think Waffle House would have making a waffle down pat by now. They don’t. And they’ve got — I am not making this up — a freakin’ Waffle House University in Norcross, Georgia. The Waffle House franchise and I are the same age. The starkest differences between us, obviously, are that I don’t have a Tio Wally University and I can make a decent waffle.
Butter does not exist at Waffle House. All they serve is that weird margarine (read: hydrogenated corn oil) “spread.” This is gross disservice, I think. Unless you can melt a bunch of butter on your waffle you’re being denied an essential and integral part of the waffle experience. This is a crime Waffle House refuses to rectify.
Another thing Waffle House lacks is decent syrup. I carry my own bottle of either Mrs. Butterworth’s or Smucker’s Boysenberry syrup with me whenever I do waffles at Waffle House. (See above overcharge.)
(Helpful Hint: Keep your bottle of syrup in a zip-lock bag after it’s been opened and Never Ever put it inside the living quarters of the yacht. Always put it in the side box. If you’re in a four-wheeler (car), put it in the trunk. Because I know you’ll thank me later for this invaluable piece of sage advice, I’ll say it in advance: “You’re very welcome.”)
A lot of people don’t know this but the “better” Waffle Houses will warm the syrup if you ask them … if they’re not too busy. If you bring your own syrup they usually put it in a coffee cup and warm it in a pan of boiling water. There are no Nucrowaves™ at Waffle House.
Waffle House is ultra-low budget and very old school. All the pots, pans, dishes and cutlery are still washed by hand. To say that Waffle House is not the vanguard of high-tech food-service innovation wouldn’t even remotely qualify as a gross understatement. Hell, they didn’t even start accepting anything other than cash until just a few years ago; it still says “Please Pay Cash At Register” on the tickets. I’m pretty sure the only reason all Waffle Houses are open 24/7/365 is because management hasn’t yet discovered those new-fangled inventions we know as a “door locks” are operated with a key.
Waffle House can be really fun though. They have their own lingo that’s used to communicate the waitress’ orders to the cook. Most often the cook will repeat what the waitress said to make sure they’re clear on the order. If nothing else, it’s quirky and somewhat amusing. But not as amusing as showing up at the right time of day: Just after the bars close. The clientele that show up post-bar and drunk-as-skunks can be some of the more entertaining creatures on the planet. And the staff working at those hours always seem to be ready for them.
I once witnessed college-aged people in Fort Collins, Colorado loudly demand to be served Bud Light; Waffle House doesn’t serve alcohol. One piss-faced, pissed-off customer stood up and loudly told the waitress she was a piss-poor cocktail waitress. “I’m just trying to reflect the quality of my customers,” she said. Snap! I guess you’ve got to be quick-witted and good-natured to waitress at Waffle House.
Recently a waitress in Kansas City, Kansas asked if I needed anything else. When I said No, she replied: “Well, if you do just start throwing condiments at the window because I’ll be outside smoking.” This is typical of Waffle House etiquette.
To be honest, I wasn’t going to write about Waffle House but my last visit reminded of this, my greatest Waffle House experience of all time:
(I swear the following is all true, recounted without exaggeration, a just-the-facts-ma’am account of what occurred. I was not dining alone, and this anecdote can be corroborated and verified. More proof, I think, of the adage: You can’t make this stuff up.)
I was at a Waffle House in Little Rock, Arkansas late one night and had ordered Pork Chops and Eggs. I had neglected to specify that I wanted one of the greatest things Waffle House offers: raisin bread toast. Not only does Waffle House have raisin bread — they have apple butter! As we have learned, raisin bread toast with apple butter is one of life’s great pleasures.
The waitress was an old black woman, about 70 years old, just shy of five-feet-tall, wearing a wig so jet-black it shone blue ’neath the fluorescent glare of Waffle House’s mood lighting. Her name was Billie; Miss Billie, to me.
I had called Miss Billie back shortly after I ordered and said, “I’m sorry, Miss Billie, but I forgot to mention that I wanted raisin toast.”
“Okay,” she said, firmly. “But you gotta know that if your toast is already made you’re gonna get that.” Alright, I said, but I want raisin toast. “I ain’t gonna waste no toast just because you don’t know how to order. You understand?” Yeah, I said. “If the toast is already made and you want raisin toast I’m gonna charge you for the raisin toast. You understand? I ain’t gonna waste no toast.” Whatever, I said, I’ll pay for an order of raisin toast. “I just want to make sure you understand: I ain’t gonna waste no toast if it’s already made.” Okay, okay. Geez.
Miss Billie then turned 180-degrees, took one step forward and … put two slices of raisin bread in the toaster. After all that lecturing she’s the one making the freakin’ toast!!!!!
After Miss Billie delivered my food with a business-like “You need anything else?” (neglecting to add “because you know I ain’t gonna be comin’ back.”) I kept overhearing bits and pieces of a conversation between her and the other waitresses. The only thing that really stood out was Miss Billie saying over and over, “Yeah, but I can make it work.”
I had no idea what they were talking about. I didn’t really care. I had my pork chops, eggs, bogus hash browns and, most importantly, my raisin bread toast with apple butter. I was a pretty happy camper. Then Miss Billie came out from behind the counter.
Bam! There was a noise so loud, so disconcerting that I was convinced a car had just crashed through the wall. I turned around to see Miss Billie squared off with the juke box, saying “I can make it work.” This was a pre-CD machine, a jukebox that still played 45-rpm records.
Bam! She slammed the jukebox again, shaking the entire building. That little lady’s got some serious muscle, I thought.
Bam! Bam! She hit the poor, defenseless jukebox again and again, slamming it against the wall with an intensity that, I suspect, had been previously reserved for the asses of her wayward children, grandchildren and … who knows who else? I remember thinking Waffle House was going to have to call out a structural engineer to re-certify the integrity of the building, such a beating was she administering to the errant, silent machine and, no doubt, the building’s infrastructure.
Then the damnedest thing happened: The juke box suddenly came to life crooning some gentle love song; I think it was Elvis’ “Love Me Tender” or something. “I told you I could fix it,” Miss Billie said matter-of-factly. “Ooh, I like that song,” one of the waitresses cooed.
I don’t know that I would recommend Waffle House to anyone. I think the food is consistently sub-standard. In fact, it generally sucks. But then again, they never close, make American waffles and it’s hard to find anything comparable entertainment-wise for the price.
Waffle House does make a decent $1 Grilled Egg and Cheese Biscuit. (Grilled? C’mon, Waffle House, don’t try to upscale it: It’s a freakin’ fried egg. For a good one tell ‘em “Don’t break the yoke.”) I’ve taken to putting mayonnaise and apple butter on them. I know it sounds odd but there is no accounting for taste. After all, it is Waffle House.
And so we roll.
Waffle House, Oh My God … They’re EVERYWHERE!
Tio Wally pilots the 75-foot, 40-ton(max) land yacht SS Me So Hungry. He reports on road food from around the country whenever parking and InterTube connections permit.