Over 1600 Waffle Houses grace this great nation of ours, mostly in the South.
Their signs, plain and tall, beckon you from the interstate. The melody to “Prop Me Next to the Jukebox if I Die” by Joe Diffie pings off the countertops. The Waffle House’s vibrant, laminated menus are reminders that theirs is an establishment where quick cleanups and a rarely changing food roster are keys to success. Patrons are conditioned to know what they want and how they want it before they push through the glass door. When a stuffed truck driver vacates a booth, the employee wipe-down process is so instantaneous that the seats are still warm when a family of Sunday churchgoers claims them next.
Eat, drink, pay, get out. That’s what the Waffle House strives for. And the customers seem happy to comply. All except me, of course. I was the only one in the place who, instead of scarfing down my meal the moment it arrived, began photographing it. Our plump Waffle House waitress, Roxie, observed my actions with a mildly bemused grin before asking, “Ya’ll aren’t from these parts, are ya’?”
Hitting up Waffle House was entirely my call. It was a “must see” destination for me while in Georgia. MG had been dazzling me for years with stories of their world-famous hash browns which are ordered up “diner speak” and come “scattered” (spread on the grill), “smothered” (with onions), “covered” (with cheese), “chunked” (with diced ham), “diced” (with diced tomatoes), “peppered” (with jalapeño peppers), “capped” (with mushrooms), “topped” (with chili) or “all the way” (the works). As we had a long day in the car ahead of us, I resisted my stirring desire to go whole hog and limited myself to “scattered, smothered, covered and diced.” Roxie loudly broadcast my order across the diner (a Waffle House tradition the Granberrys told me to be on the alert for), before settling herself back into a conversation with another equally plump waitress that produced my favorite line from the entire Gerogia trip: “Ya’ll can go to the skatin’ rink and get a big pickle for seventy-five cents… and it’s good too!”
The rest of the meal was an afterthought from the get go. I wanted the real Waffle House experience and that was only going to happen with hash browns, which (surprise!) did not disappoint.
The rest of the afternoon was spent on a drive through White County, residing in the northeast corner of the state and home to the towns of Cleveleand, Sautee, and the tourist trap known as Helen, which boasts a re-created Alpine village complete with gabled rooflines, schnitzel restaurants and cuckoo clock retailers. A miles-long traffic jam along the two-lane highway 75 kept us from experiencing the magic of alp horns and glockenspiels first hand, but we did make it far enough to reach some of the best eating in White County, and I’m not just saying it ‘cuz MG’s brother, Matthew, is responsible for the food!
Nacoochee Grill lives inside an old farm house, a live fire grill doing the cooking on the inside, American flag and Southern-required rocking chairs gracing the front porch. By the way, if a home in Georgia is unlucky enough to be without a porch – and those are rare – you’re more than likely to see a rocking chair perched up on the roof – a testament to the humidity.
It wasn’t long after we had been seated that the local area was hit with thunder the volume to curl your toes. Pounding rainstorms are as common as gravel here. The hammering rain just added to the fun of filling our bellies surrounded by the protective white-washed walls and creaking wooden floors that give Nacoochee Grill its charm. MG, Gloria Granberry and I started with BBQ duck tacos served with ancho BBQ sauce, golden deep fried grit fritters stuffed with andoullie sausage and topped with chili honey mustard, and freshly-made jalapeno cheddar scones.
That was followed by sweet corn pudding and roasted baby zebra eggplant. Next came our main courses. MG went with shrimp and garlic grits with sauteed red peppers, poblano peppers, shallots, green onions and bacon.
I had the chicken pot pie with seared chicken, sweet peas, carrots, onion and celery. It arrived looking less like a pot pie and more like a pastry-encrusted UFO, but I knew what savory deliciousness awaited underneath! Excellent food and beautiful, relaxing atmosphere. No giant pickles here… but if that’s more your speed, I know a Waffle House waitress I can put you in touch with.