The former CEO and current chairman of Waffle House, Joe Rogers Jr., has his waffles in the iron right now over sex tapes allegedly made of him and his former housekeeper, who claims that Rogers demanded sexual acts as part of her job duties over the eight years she worked for him. She's suing, he's saying she consented to what he was serving up, and the tapes are in the hands of a judge.
Rogers's reputation may end up smothered, covered, diced and chunked like an order of Waffle House hash browns, but does the chain itself deserve to be fried -- or will its rep come out sunny-side up?
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I grew up in the Midwestern United States, where Waffle Houses were -- and still are -- prolific, packed in the wee hours by truckers, drunks, errant teens and senior citizens who eat breakfast at 4 a.m. I recall the coffee being decent and abundant, the service being gritty but efficient, and the food being pretty awful -- with the exception of the eggs, hash browns and, of course, the waffles.
Walking over the reddish-tiled floor of the Waffle House at 8401 Pearl Street in Thornton brought on a wave of nostalgia that washed over me, along with the the unforgettable aroma of coffee, greasy grill and pit sweat that every Waffle House has -- a big part of its seedy charm. I sat myself unceremoniously as the single female server brought out a plastic placemat menu. She assumed I wanted coffee; she was absolutely right. I immediately took a shine to her, as her crusty congeniality was a real comfort. So was the coffee; it was as decent as I remembered, and my cup never went below half without a warm-up.
I ordered the Springer Mountain Farms grilled chicken & eggs with cheese grits, a seasonal pumpkin spice waffle and something I've always wanted to order but never had before: hash browns "all the way," which are scattered, smothered in onions, covered in cheese, chunked with ham, diced with tomatoes, peppered with jalapenos, capped with mushrooms, topped with chili and country gravy. I wanted every single topping available on Waffle House hash browns, so I could cross this sloppy endeavor off my bucket list.
There are three fundamental sources of entertainment at every Waffle House: other customers, the ancient jukebox with a limited selection of music, and the cooks. At this location, there were a few old-timers bitching about the election and the jukebox was tuned to everything Katy Perry has ever produced, but the lone cook was fun to observe as he flipped eggs, molded hash browns with those little metal rings and worked the waffle irons like a seasoned professional.
As I expected, my order was done in under ten minutes and I got my first plate: piled with a fat, flat-grilled chicken breast filet, two perfectly done sunny-side up eggs, grits swimming in melted butter and tagged on the edges with not-really-melted processed cheese slices. The best part of ordering sunny-side up eggs is being able to dip toast triangles in the yellow dippy goo, but it also worked well with the grits. The chicken was juicy but under-seasoned, so I soon turned my attention to the piping-hot waffle plopped down in front of me.
Waffle House can make a waffle.
This one was thick, moist, not too sweet, and had ribbons of pumpkin spice batter running through it; it didn't need butter or syrup -- the sign of an exceptional waffle. I was already nearing a state of full when the mega-turbo-gut-killer hash browns arrived.
These hash browns were a thing of beauty: a mountainous pile of fried potato, more processed cheese, barely-heated canned mushrooms, lightly sautéed onion dices, overripe tomato chunks, vinegary pickled jalapenos, hunks of salty seared ham, and whirls of milk-white, well-peppered country sausage gravy -- and then the whole spectacular mound was buried under a volcanic layer of chili, the kind with meat and beans.
I shoveled, scooped, scraped and crammed as much as I could, and still had to take half the order home. These hash browns were everything I thought they'd be -- and more. When you are small on cash, big on hungry and/or drunk as fuck, these are what you need.
I paid my reasonable tab and was thankful that I'd decided to revisit my old stompin' ground. Visiting a Waffle House is like peering at a trailer-park Norman Rockwell painting; it's about as unaffected a greasy spoon stop as you can find. And it deserves better than it's former CEO's tawdry sex scandal.
Thank goodness the hash browns remain untainted.