As I approached the Waffle House, I noticed that several of the letters on its illuminated sign were out, causing it to appear to read “WA HO.” I chuckled to myself as I pulled off the highway and into its parking lot, placing my battered nineteen-ninety-seven Ford pickup truck alongside such vehicles as fourteen other pickup trucks, and what looked in the dim flickering light of the parking lot to be a Volkswagen Thing.
I adjusted my ascot as I stepped through the doors of the establishment. My palate was awakened, and dare I say entranced, by the strong, unmistakable pungency of “Pine-Sol” brand floor cleaner. The Maitre’d, whom I realized was female (an uncommon practice in this part of the country), called out a greeting without looking up from the maintenance she was performing on one of the tables, which appeared to be gluing a large section of Formica back into place. “Have a set wherever, we’ll be with you in a sec.” The popping of her gum lent her utterance a certain gravitas.
I seated myself at the bar and awaited service. I noticed on the counter in front of me there was a placemat, with the menu printed upon it. I silently applauded their resourcefulness, as I remember more than one time I had carelessly spilt my fifth or sixth pint of Merlot upon a paper menu or cloth napkin, resulting in great embarrassment. Here, I need not worry. The bartender, who seemed to be performing also as a server, came up to me, pad in his hand. I asked what the house wine was, and he regarded me very intently for several moments, no doubt mentally calculating which treasure of his cellar would best please a patron of such sophisticated and discerning tastes. At last he turned, poured a steaming mug of an odd, heated brown wine into a mug featuring the restaurant’s branding from a short, wide, transparent carafe. He placed it before me. I took a sip, and found this peculiar wine to be bitter, but bracing. “You. sir, are an excellent sommelier.” He snorted in a charming impression of a proletariat and responded, “I think you’ve had plenty of wine, buddy. That’ll clear your head.” I could tell he was impressed with my wine-tasting career.
“What’ll it be?” The bartender gestured toward the placemat. I scrutinized it carefully, noting the oeuvre was heavily in favor of red meat and individually-wrapped cheese slices. It was then I noticed the waffle, long a favorite treat of my many visits to Brussels that I am sure will start happening any day now. “A waffle, good sir!” I placed my index finger upon the image of the waffle to underscore my decisiveness. The bartender grunted and turned toward the grill, and the waffle irons beside it. Soon the rich smell of browning batter was combating for my nostrils’ attention with the “Pine-Sol.” Invigorating. My reverie was interrupted by the bartender placing flatware (not apparently silver, but then again, it was a Tuesday night, so it could be forgiven) and a small container of syrup in front of me.
As the waffle cooked, I decided to break decorum a bit and observe my fellow patrons. Beyond the Maitre’d, I noticed three gentlemen all seated at a table. They were eating with such gusto that they could not even pause between bites to speak, giving me high hopes for the saveur of my own repast. The three men were all wearing baseball caps, a bit of a faux pas while dining, and I noticed the backs of said caps were made of mesh rather than cloth. The cap of the man facing me bore an inscription reading “Sorry Girls, This HUNK is Taken!” I assumed this must be local lingo for enjoying fine cheese, such as an aged brie.
The plate clattered as it was set in front of me. A large waffle rested upon its center, with a pair of small plastic tubs flanking it. Tubs of butter, I soon realized. A very considerate move by the chef, allowing the guest to determine his own amount of butter. Other fine eateries could well benefit from this example. I applied both butter and syrup sparingly, as I quickly deduced both would rapidly lower the temperature of the food. I followed the example set by the other diners and ate with both great speed and enthusiasm. Soon my plate was clear, and the chef placed a small yellow ticket upon my table.
I reached into my pocket for my wallet full of platinum carts only to find my pocket empty! I remembered leaving my wallet atop my table basse in my apartment. Unable to face the chef in my shame, I sauntered out of the restaurant while he was busy frying up some pommes de terre rissolées, and started my vehicle and pulled away. I took one last look back at this five-star establishment in my rearview mirror, and I noticed the chef wishing me an enthusiastic farewell, jumping up and down and saluting me with one of his frying pans. Too humble to long endure such praises, I sped away, making a mental note to avoid this establishment for a while, lest the crew recognize me and make an embarassing show of my presence.
Next week, I visit a place that fancies itself “The King of Burgers.”