Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Southern Specialty: Waffle House

I grew up in a part of Florida that is for all intents and purposes the deep south. We're talking Watermelon Festivals replete with crown-bedecked Seed Queens and catfish and fried okra-filled menus around town.

Certainly, you might call me a fair weathered Southerner. I've picked and chosen the qualities I've chosen to retain. For instance, the accent can stay below the Mason Dixon; it's just not suited to an Indian American working in San Francisco. There are, however, a few culinary gems that I'll proudly flaunt.

One of the shinier ones is the best joint for a consistently tasty breakfast - any time of the day and in just about any Southeastern state. Waffle House! Those of you who have driven through my home region will undoubtedly recognize the trademark black and yellow signs that line busy interstates proclaiming the approach of a Waffle House franchise. But have you actually stopped in one?

If you haven't yet, you should. And you have plenty of options to choose from; today, there are over 1500 Waffle Houses across 25 US states. The first one is still open for business in Avondale Estates, Georgia. The fare is a step up from fast food, but I warn you it's essentially a Southern diner. Prepare for the short order stations behind a raised counter and bar stools. The smell of smoky bacon grease adds some extra charm.

Ironically, the items I recommend most on the Waffle House menu are not the waffles (although those are also quite tasty). It's actually the omelettes, hash browns, and grits. Go ahead and order them all together!

The secret to Waffle House omelettes lies largely in technique, not any special ingredient. If you watch carefully while your order is prepared, you may catch the cooks running your eggs through an industrial blender - which is reserved expressly for this purpose. Yup, they blend their eggs. Sure beats hand-whipping or electric mixers. The machine seriously aerates the eggs and makes them a bit frothy - allowing for a much thicker and fluffier omelette. It tastes like a yellow cloud, coated in cheese and sprinkled with mushrooms and green peppers (if you get my standard order, anyway).

And the hash browns? They're the perfect mix of soft, preboiled potato and golden-crisped strands. Nicely covered in oil, of course. The grits are a southern signature, and when mixed with a touch of butter and some salt and pepper, they're usually very well cooked. The result is a soft and flavorful mouthful of cooked ground corn. . . enjoy !