Let’s Eat: Learning to Appreciate the Great Waffle House Experience

A plate full of Waffle House pork chops and hash browns, dipped and topped (served with onion and cheese). KATHERINE MAYHEW

You think you know everything about the Waffle House, and if you’ve lived here a while, you just might. But more than 13,000 people moved to Nashville last year from places where Waffle House doesn’t exist. They probably think the place is all about waffles. Let’s teach them a thing or two.


Waffle House is thought of by some as the place where you show up trying to sober up in the first place. That’s true. But noted Nashville chef Sean Brock, who is a big fan of the restaurant, has a different opinion.

“What I have devised as a chef is a tasting menu experience,” Brock told noted travel host Anthony Bourdain a while back. “You don’t come here expecting The French Laundry. You come here expecting something amazing.”

Brock’s menu begins with a pecan waffle spread with margarine and syrup. He then moves on to a burger melt and follows with a green salad and Thousand Island dressing. Finally, either a pork chop or a steak. For those of you new to Nashville, you are probably happily shelling out hundreds of dollars for one of Brock’s superlative dining experiences at The Continental or Audrey’s. Just keep in mind that when the chef is done for the night, he might head straight to the Waffle House.

For me, it’s also a pecan waffle. That’s followed by a cheesesteak with Texas bacon and peppered, topped, and topped hash browns (served with onions, cheese, and jalapenos).

There is what I call a “secret” menu that you should know about. Waffle House has slightly changed the menu, removing some beloved items like the Pork Chops, Steak, Cheese and Eggs, Bacon Lovers BLT, and Hash Browns with Sausage Gravy. The uninitiated could never know they were there. Steaks and chops are ultra-thin and never cooked to perfection because you can’t. But they’re well seasoned and just what you need to go with cheese and eggs, exceptionally creamy scrambled eggs with cheese. They are all still available. You just have to ask.

Old or new customers notice that after you order, the server stands in a specific spot behind the counter and yells out the order to the short order cook. What a lot of people don’t know is how the cook gets the order exactly right every time without looking at a ticket. There is a “marking system,” which uses condiment packets, utensils, and food pieces to represent the order.

“It’s really one thing, and even though it’s a secret like the Coca-Cola recipe, we hide it in plain sight,” Njeri Boss, Waffle House’s director of public relations, told Nexstar.

For example, a packet of jam at the bottom of the plate represents scrambled eggs. The same packet on top of the plate means eggs sunny side up. Two pickles at the bottom of a plate means a bacon breakfast sandwich. An upside down packet of butter represents a pecan waffle. I hope you are now incredibly impressed with the cooks at Waffle House.

Waffle House is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It’s always there, always reliable, and always delicious. But most people don’t know that the federal government depends on Waffle House during weather emergencies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency uses the “Waffle House Index” to determine the severity of a hurricane or tropical storm. Green means the Waffle House is open and serving its full menu. Yellow means the restaurant is serving a limited menu and may be using an electrical generator. Red means it’s closed (time to get out of Dodge).

Finally, many famous people show up at the Waffle House just because they want a good meal. Faith Hill and Tim McGraw have made an appearance. Jake Owen heads to the Waffle House after the award ceremonies instead of attending the after party. Carrie Underwood’s Christmas morning tradition is going to the restaurant. New people, please note that an unwritten rule in Nashville is to never approach them in any way. That’s why they feel comfortable going.

Catherine Mayhew is a former The Charlotte Observer restaurant critic, cookbook author, and master barbecue judge. Follow her @thesouthinmymouth on Instagram to see what she’s eating and email [email protected] with tips on her favorite restaurants and food trucks.