Not far off the path of Route 66.6, just east of The Devil’s Doorway, is a new Waffle House. A week ago, I am told, there was nothing but a tall forest made of pale trees and soft, black soil. But just last Tuesday a Waffle House appeared, and a couple of days after that, I made my first visit. After all, word got around town quickly that it was a significant improvement from the last restaurant that appeared out of nowhere—the short-lived Long John Silver’s that was inexplicably eaten, bricks and all, by a family of bears.
The first thing you’ll notice as you walk inside is undoubtedly the Waffle Boy. He is pudgy, stands about five feet tall, and wears an annoying white hat. He smiles brightly, but his eyes are empty. The only reason I know that he is the Waffle Boy is because when I opened the door he exclaimed: “Hoo! Howdy Ho! I am the Waffle Boy!” in a threateningly cheerful voice.
I took a deep breath and moved on by him. He didn’t seem to mind my rudeness. He just kept smiling into the blackness of the 3 A.M. glass.
I sat down in the corner, figuring it was a good place to be left alone. Only two other customers were in. There was a young bearded guy in a trucker cap, clothes practically hanging off of him, wolfing down what appeared to be a stack of at least six waffles, made classic style. Then there was an old woman who was missing her teeth, carefully shoving small spoonfuls of cheesesteak hashbrowns into her mouth.
Besides the Waffle Boy, there was one other employee working—he was handling the griddle, the register, and the tables. He looked like his name would be Sam but he had no nametag.
I called him over quickly and told him who I was. For most restaurants around town, my name was feared and respected. But this Sam-looking-guy seemed to have not heard a thing about me, as though he too, like the restaurant, had been formed from the shadows between pale trees.
I ordered chocolate chip waffles and a cup of decaf. To his credit, Sam got right to work on my order.
I went to the bathroom while I waited. The wheat-colored tile floor was clean, aside from small shreds of toilet paper strewn about. The smell was inoffensive, but as new as the restaurant is, I suppose that test is yet to come. There were two stalls, three urinals, and two sinks that had satisfyingly hot water. The only real downside to the bathroom was the six-foot-tall gorilla that stood by the stall doors, holding a vintage wooden baseball bat in his big gorilla hands. He had an angry glare, but he was silent.
I was able to use one of the urinals, but I kept my eye on the gorilla’s reflection in the metal pipe all the while. He did not move, only stared. I washed my hands rather quickly, and chose not to dry them off.
When I came back, my chocolate chip waffles were already slapped down on a plate next to a steaming cup of coffee. The service was fantastic.
I walked up to the register to talk to the worker who looked like a Sam.
“Sir,” I said. “There is a gorilla with a baseball bat in the bathroom of this fine establishment.”
Sam held his finger up while he silently counted out money. Then when he was done counting, he looked up at me and smiled politely.
“Is there?” he said. “That seems doubtful.”
“You could go check.”
“I have hashbrowns to cook.”
“Well,” I said patiently. “Maybe just whenever you need to use the bathroom. I’m sure he will still be in there.”
“Oh no,” said Sam. “I don’t urinate.”
I nodded. I went back to my table, chipped off some butter and spread it across the two waffles I’d ordered. Then I drizzled warm syrup across them, making sure each waffle square was filled with a small brown puddle.
It was delicious food—Sam really knows how to cook up a waffle. There’s a softness to the waffles that maybe isn’t the ideal waffle texture, but there’s also a subtle vanilla flavor, and the syrup—while maybe not fresh maple—is undeniably tasty. I ordered a side of bacon as well, just for the sake of this review. The bacon was satisfying enough.
When the other customers had filed out, I stayed. I stayed in my booth, staring out the large glass windows, unable to see anything because the night sky was so dark. I found it a great place to reflect. I thought about my ex-wife, my adolescent years, and of course the gorilla in the bathroom. I wondered if the gorilla had always been there and if anyone was feeding it.
On my way out, I gave Sam a good tip and then said, with what I hope was not a condescending smile: “There really is a gorilla with a baseball bat in there, you know.”
He smiled in return. I walked past without looking back, brushed by the Waffle Boy and his empty dark eyes, out to the barren parking lot where the golden neon light flickered across puddles of cold rain. The Waffle Boy seemed to be pressing his face against the window as I pulled out, his eyes following my car as long as I could see him.
I wasn’t a big fan of the Waffle Boy, as I’m one who prefers privacy and distance from staff. But of course I appreciate that this is subjective. If you are one who enjoys that constant attention from a service worker, I have no doubt you’ll love being watched by the Waffle Boy as you leave.
Even if you’re more like me, I think you will find that Sam is an excellent worker and a valuable asset to Waffle House. Beyond that, of course, I’d suggest you try the chocolate chip waffles.
All things considered, I would say the Waffle House in Bear Creek offers tastier food then the majority of restaurants in town and also is considerably safer than most too. If they can manage to avoid being eaten by wild animals, and if they can keep the bathroom in decent condition, the pros certainly will continue to outweigh the cons and I would guess they will have plenty of success, despite lacking the convenience of a downtown location.
First published under the pen name Venrik Goodington III