I traveled to Atlanta, Georgia for a diner meetup recently. I drove through the night and arrived in Atlanta just before sunrise. The fluorescents in gas stations hurt my eyes so I did not stop for snacks and found myself famished as I passed my 17th Waffle House. I believe all multiples of 7, not just 7 itself, are lucky numbers so I decided to stop.
It was an exciting late night venture as it was both my first Waffle House experience and the first time I’ve ever been to a diner guarded by an armed security guard. I appreciate any establishment that takes its waffle batter security so seriously.
I was seated at a large booth, adjacent to a couple who had just eloped in the booth next to me. After they had finished reciting their vows, their pastor left, and I asked them if they would like to join me in my booth. And so we dined.
The diner aesthetic
Diners are not supposed to look ‘nice’. They are supposed to look like the unguarded, vanilla core of our everyday lives. They do not represent our hopes, our dreams, or our failures, but the predictable, reassuring inevitability of our daily urge to wake up and to eat breakfast foods. The diner aesthetic in its purest form is, thus, a visual representation of the middle way.
But Waffle House was perhaps rather ugly. The maroon parquet floors reminded me of a DMV office built in the 1970s. The flexible wooden panels glued to the booths were in need of a deep cleanse. The sepia tones were just too damn sepia if you pardon my French. Yet, I do admit there was a certain charm in all of this, although I still prefer the more traditional aesthetic of the New York City diner.
The Diner Enthusiast says: "If diner aesthetic was plotted on a box and whisker plot, Waffle House would sit in the the lower quartile. I love box and whisker plots."
I’ve already explained to you that this was a very early morning diner excursion. And, well, quite frankly, I do not remember a lot about the service I received at Waffle House. Perhaps the best waiter is neither seen nor heard.
The Diner Enthusiast says: "You can always tell a Milford man."
Did Waffle House serve the best diner food I’ve ever tasted? No, it did not. That is not the right question, however. Diner food in its Platonic form is supposed to satisfy more than just the palette.
Here’s what I ordered:
Cheese sandwich, grilled
Hashbrowns: smothered, covered, diced
~The Grilled Cheese Sandwich
There is a fairly low bar for a grilled cheese sandwich when it comes to acceptable appearances. At bare minimum, the two slices of bread have to match in shape and size. Fascinatingly, Waffle House did not reach that bar.
I also had a problem with the actual tastiness of the grilled cheese sandwich. As you can see, there appears to be only one slice of Kraft American cheese on this sandwich. If Waffle House committed as much energy to my grilled cheese sandwich as they do on security, perhaps my grilled cheese sandwich would have involved more cheese.
~The Hashbrowns: smothered, covered, diced
Waffle House offers its diners eight different hashbrown options, each with its own corresponding code name. Please refer to appendix item A for a full list.
I chose to have my hashbrowns smothered, covered, and diced, meaning I ordered hashbrowns that were cooked with onions, tomatoes, and covered with cheese. They were delicious, the highlight of the meal.
I cannot point to the exact point in history, but within the past few decades, the ‘Belgian’ waffle became synonymous with ‘waffle’. If you order a waffle today, you expect a Belgian waffle made with a light, fluffy batter, deep pockets, and crisp edges.
Waffle House does not serve its waffles Belgian. Its waffles are smaller, thinner, and far more dense, the neutron star of waffles. It tasted like cake batter, which although not unpleasant, was not what I was expecting.
The Diner Enthusiast says: "Neutron stars are not particularly inspiring. Nor was this waffle or grilled cheese sandwich."
Waffle House is affordable. The total price for my waffle, grilled cheese, and smothered, covered, and diced hashbrowns was $10.55. Although the food would have tasted better in a finer diner, the bill would have easily been double the price. These are the types of trade-off’s a diner patron must deal with in choosing the right establishment for the right time and place.
The Diner Enthusiast says: "I would choose to pay more for better food."
I found love in a hopeless place at Waffle House. I personally, did not find love. But I found two people who were in love with each other getting married at the Waffle House. Although it may have been an arranged marriage so it is not clear if they were in love.
Diners are not black and white. My goal is to discuss diners, not to review them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I’ve left a few discussion points below to help start your conversations in the comments section.
At what point in history did the ‘Belgian’ Waffle become synonymous with the ‘Waffle’?
Why are there so many Waffle Houses in Atlanta?
How do you like your hashbrowns at Waffle House? Code names only, please.
What do you listen to on long car rides? I prefer Ham radio.