Thursday, December 04, 2003

Southern charm

It's true: Southerners are friendly people, at least in casual encounters at shops and restaurants. Whites, African-Americans, men, women, young people, old people, everyone had a smile and a friendly greeting for Kenny.

There is of course a case to be made that the remnants of Jim Crow make the South a profoundly unfriendly place, but what I'm talking about is social lubrication of the kind of which my fellow Wisconsinites could learn to use a little more. Maybe it's the weather.

One of the few people I met who was not brimming with charm was my sister-in-law's occupational therapist. He was affable enough, but there definitely was a reserve about him. Turns out he didn't grow up in Alabama, although he repeatedly mentioned, seemingly by way of establishing authenticity, the fact that his parents are from Alabama.

But you'll never guess where he did grow up: Kenosha.
Awful House

That's what we used to call Waffle House in high school, or maybe it was Offal House. No one ever spelled it, to my knowledge. The magic of homophones.

But this was a friendly insult. We actually loved the place. Driving back from Birmingham this morning I stopped at one, and it was about as I remembered. Scratch about: exactly as I remembered. And I wouldn't have it any other way. The chain seems not to have changed many design elements since the Ford administration. Let's just say that brown is the watchword. And orange.

I had eggs, toast, grits, bacon, and hashbrowns. Grits and hashbrowns was a little excessive, but hey, I'm on vacation. I mostly had grits just to confirm the fact that I don't really like them.

As for the spuds, you may know that a Waffle House trademark is to serve hashbrowns in many different varieties, all of which are listed on the menu as past participles: scattered (the classic), smothered (with onions), covered (with cheese), chunked (with tomatoes)--and the newest variation, capped (with mushrooms). So I ordered mine scattered and smothered, and the waitress said, "Huh?" I repeated my order, and she laughed and said, in a thick Alabama accent, "I thought you said 'spotted'!" But no: so far, no spotted hashbrowns at Waffle House, although you never know what will happen. They can put a man on the moon, you know.

If you're curious, I like waffles OK, but I'm not excited enough about them to order them at what may be my only visit this year to their namesake restaurant chain. Unless I stop at a Waffle House tomorrow. Then I promise I'll have a waffle.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003


Old favorites I have eaten on this trip to the South:

  • barbecue (three days in a row!--FYI, the place I went Saturday, Golden Rule barbecue in Birmingham, has barbecue salad)
  • sweet iced tea (or, as my brother pointed out, what is sometimes known simply as sweet)
  • Krispy Kreme doughnuts
  • fried chicken
  • turnip greens
  • fried okra
  • cornbread
  • Krystal hamburgers
  • Chick-fil-a (for lunch today--I started to seek it out on Sunday, then remembered Chick-fil-a is closed on Sunday, for church, natch)

    There's one last golden ring I hope I can grab before I leave Friday: Waffle House.