Monday, January 15, 2007

Some Days I Just Feel Scattered, Smothered, Covered...and Chopped, Chunked, Capped and Topped

I admit to being a very nostalgic person, and the enjoyment of food to me has a lot to do with the context in which it is experienced. Minutes ago, I had a nostalgic craving strike me suddenly. Striking is absolutely the word I want to use for that, like having a big, plump, friendly chef (he has a bushy, black moustache for some reason) sneak up behind me on tip toes and wack me swiftly on the head with a big baguette. After the impact, I imagine him laughing "Ha HA!" in a big booming voice, which means "Crave that, you fool!" Heehee, don't worry, I'm not on anything. Imagine my hallucinations if I actually was!

Well, if any of you have been to the Waffle House, maybe you'll understand this one. The American Deep South is scary and charming all at the same time, and the food is no different. There's a lot of charm to be had in the food, even (or maybe I should say especially) the greasiest junkiest food down there. It's a place where the greasy spoon chain, and the really old burger joint can become iconic places of history. I have no problem with that. I loved the Waffle House when I was down there, for a place to get breakfast, but especially as a place to go late into the night. It's a place where hash browns aren't just hash browns, like they are up here. They're a meal. A greasy, messy, beautiful pile of a meal. Here's how to have them:

"scattered" across the grill

"smothered" with onions

"covered" with cheese (you know what I'm talking about here, right? Yah, I'm not ashamed; I eat processed cheese)

"chunked" with diced ham

"topped" with chili

"diced" with diced tomatoes

"peppered" with jalapeno peppers

"capped" with mushrooms

What a wonderful, cheap indulgence it was for me - a "starving" (yah, I know, well, it's as close to starving as I get) student living in Athens. Just a handful of dollars for the whole mess of it, plus a cup of bottomless coffee. It even includes entertainment - I used to love watching the system - the cook, master of the grill, brandishing his trusty spatula, sucking in the hollered lingo-laden orders from sassy waitresses, and shooting out the food like a machine - keeping their cool, in the middle of all that sizzling, spinning and bubbling around them. Now that I think about it, the hollering is a bit like some of the izakayas around here. Except you go to Waffle House after the drinking, not during. I had my first serving of grits ever in a Waffle House, late night, post-partying. I was a bit skeptical about the whole concept of grits, while my friend enthusiastically tried to convince me of their merit. I think the main selling point was that you have to have them smothered in butter and cheese... They turned out to be okay, but he treated the ordeal like it was a rite of passage. And of course, because of that, it remains a cute, warm WaHo (to borrow a blogger's term of endearment) memory for me. Okay, I have to go buy some potatoes now.


ranger said...

Who, who tried to convince you that grits were anything but a mushy carrier for cheese? There was one place in the entire town of Athens that made edible grits and they were so spicy you couldn't taste anything but pepper.

Dumpling_Girl said...

Thanks for your comment, Ranger! Hehe, I think the point was more that it was a distinctive part of being in the South. And it was. The grits thing doesn't seem to have caught on elsewhere...hmmm, I wonder why? Heheh. Of course, most of the people I hung out with down there were from somewhere else, but at least he was American and had been living in the South longer than I had, so that gave him a bit more authority on the whole grits "initiation" than me. It was Consuelo's then boyfriend, now husband - in my memory, his name is Michael, but I could be horribly wrong (my memory has blocked out large parts of that time, so sorry if it's wrong). A few of us had been bar crawling that night. So where was this spicy grits place? Was it that cute little restaurant that did "fancy" southern food that was sort of new and on the same street as the arches? Jody and I did a stumble down memory lane trip to Athens one night a few years ago when I was in Atlanta, and ate there and I remember having lots of okra and their really good corn bread with whole kernals of corn that are like having raisins in raisin bread. I still yearn for the barbecue too - had a great time "Meeting the Man" at Dixie's Barbecue in Seattle.

ranger said...

I think it was that restaurant--blue something? I haven't been back to Athens since library school. I went to Atlanta to see Christopher (who was at the time briefly back in my life) and then drove to Athens to see Jen. I do miss it sometimes. There is nowhere else like Georgia.