Another Waffle House?

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris March 27, 2023 09:56 in Dining Diary

For thirty years The Food Show (airs 2-4 pm weekdays on WGSO 990AM) was about snooty standards in food. Tom Fitzmorris had rules about eating hamburgers, called meatballs and spaghetti kid food, and didn’t entertain any conversations about sports bars or fast food. I often referred to myself as the “ombudsman” of the callers, for campaigning on their behalf so that they could talk about what they wanted to talk about. 

And that is the policy on the show now that I am the host. But sometimes I realize those high standards kept the standards of the show elevated. When I took over the mic in Tom’s illness, I declared that I am a broadcaster more than a foodie, and the focus of the show switched to simply talking about food as any two people would, as well as focusing on Tom’s written word.

It was the convergence of these two things that brought us to the Waffle House over the weekend. This event was precipitated by an almost-year-long conversation about the place that Tom and I have every time we pass one, which is often since they seem to be proliferating at an alarming rate. Having spent the last thirty years hearing Tom refer to the Waffle House as “The Awful House,” I was surprised to hear him say he wanted to go there. A few times I brushed it off thinking it was just stuff that tumbled from his mouth now to which not a lot of credence should be given, but when it persisted every time we passed I had to find out about this sudden interest.

When I asked him why he was suddenly of late so interested in going to the Waffle House, He replied that he had never been there. I then asked how he dubbed it “The Awful House” without ever setting foot in the door. Since I was raised on Vienna Sausages I am hardly a gourmet, but having spent nearly 35 years with Tom in the finest restaurants, I had no intention of going to the Waffle House.

Then three things happened (in ascending order of importance) to bring us to the point of visiting the Waffle House: The Food Show producer Patty routinely declares her love for it, which I often dismiss because she was raised like me without the 35 years with Tom. And The New Orleans Menu Almanac declared last Saturday National Waffle Day. And most important, we recently drove by a newer one in safe little Mandeville that I could probably stand. 

Actually, the most important of all these is that Tom is campaigning for it, and I do try to give him whatever he wants these days. He’s earned it.

So we went. Having heard once from the commentary circuit that air travel post-COVID was an environment like you’d find at The Waffle House at 3 a.m., I made sure we went at a slack time. It was not very crowded. There was a large party waiting on the chairs lining the wall, but luckily a couple got up at one of the lower counters.

Everyone but us seemed to be regulars. We were seated between a preppy college couple and two slovenly kids the same age, so there was definitely a mix of “diners.” The staff was exceedingly friendly. I had already decided I would get my usual breakfast of two eggs over easy with hash browns and bacon. Tom would have a waffle, because he is a waffle guy, and it was National Waffle Day. (Eating by the New Orleans Menu Newsletter Almanac has lately become a ridiculous obsession.) 

But Tom was balking at this plan, and seemed to be stuck on the Breakfast Melt, the Waffle House version of the popular breakfast sandwich. (The fancier versions probably stole the idea from here.) At $5.99, we got both.

This friendly staff works really hard and the food comes quickly. I embarrassed myself by asking a stupid question when Tom’s pecan waffle arrived. “Do you have real Maple Syrup?” The waitress was puzzled by this question, then grabbed a sticky-handled pitcher and placed it before me.

I then asked for butter for the hashbrowns and received a container of whipped spread, which I definitely did not use. One container came with Tom’s waffle, and I had already dumped it, thinking it was syrup. The odd substance lay there a second until I whisked it off. 

Tom enjoyed his waffle, and I tasted a bite. It was absolutely fine. Soft in the center, and not particularly crispy outside, it had a nice flavor. He also had some coffee that he liked just fine.

My plate of breakfast was good. The eggs were exactly as I asked, the bacon was very nice. These strips were cooked not as hard as I like, but they were cooked as most people would like them. Not thin but not thick, they had a sweet and smoky flavor and were of good quality. 

The hash browns were the nice old-fashioned frozen shreds that are crisped on a grill. I almost never see these and I’m delighted when I do. They could have benefitted from some salt and real butter, but I ate them as they came, eschewing the whipped spread. The biscuit had nothing going for it but carbs. My plate had a packet of ketchup in the center, and I’m not sure what it was for. Potatoes? Eggs?

The poor breakfast sandwich that was ordered per Tom’s whim sat there like an orphaned dish. How bad could it be? I like pork sausage patties but never eat them. I took a bite and it was very tasty. The pork sausage was the same quality as the bacon, with a little kick to it. American Cheese and scrambled eggs rounded it out, with nice Texas Toast-style thick white bread. I had to keep myself from eating this whole thing.

When the check came I was reflexively nervous when I saw others pulling out cash. I didn’t even check before entering to see if cards were accepted payment. Then the college girl next to us pulled out a card that was happily received. I wasn’t in a panic anyway, because for once I had cash, and it would have been enough to cover this Waffle House bill of $19.

It was a fine breakfast in a fine place, and I left thinking about Tom’s long-held admonition to eat in better places than chain restaurants because you’ll spend the same as in chains but have a better experience. I almost agreed until I did a mental tally of what the two of us would have spent for just pancakes and a waffle plus coffee at our favorite breakfast place in Covington, Mattina Bella. It would have been double, but the experience overall would have been twice as good.

That does not diminish the goodness of the Waffle House. For people not nearly as snooty as me, it’s actually a fine choice for breakfast. I can see why every time I blink there is a new one. And it is full.