My sandwich sat heavily in my stomach as I watched states turn blue and red Tuesday night, and I wanted to write something beautiful about empathy. I wanted to say it in a way Burt Bacharach didn’t already beat me to. I wanted to lament that that song was recorded in 1965 and we’re still trading barbs about who’s un-American, un-Christian, ignorant, and ill-informed instead of just discussing facts. I wanted to tell you about how my students wrote journals suggesting that folks research their decisions and discuss them compassionately — but then turned around the last period of the day and cheered/heckled about their mock election results.
I wanted to say all of this and ask you for help and give you my prescription and . . .
instead I’m going to talk about Waffle House.
delicious unbroiled, too.
I know this is going to be a confusing post, because I doubt anyone feels the same as I do about Waffle House. But I also know that you have a Waffle House of your own. Not a literal WaHo, as we called it in college, but a figurative place that means to you what WaHo means to me.
Waffle House is my safe house. It’s a weathered yellow, globe-lamped beacon on the darkest, coldest streets on the darkest, coldest nights.
When every other restaurant is closed, it’s open. When every person I see feels like a stranger, it’s open. When my best friend in the world is closed off to me, it’s open. When everyone is asleep and I’m otherwise totally alone, Waffle House is awake.
It’s not only open: it’s welcoming.
A woman works at my Waffle House who has practiced mothering for most of her life. She effortlessly extends that to me as if I might as well be her child, a gesture that astounds me in its generosity but one that she seems to barely consider. She’ll call me sweetie or hon or baby and offer me a soda. She’ll make a joke about where I’m putting all those waffles I’m eating. She’ll ask me how everything tasted.
She doesn’t have to do that. She probably gets paid half of what I do (and I’m a teacher; I don’t get paid that much). My tip — though I’ll tip generously out of gratitude — isn’t going to make up for her lower wages. Her boss isn’t sitting there watching her. She just does it because she’s in the hospitality business, and she feels hospitable toward me. I can’t get over it.
Even in the Waffle Houses where no one mothers me, they extend the basic gestures of hospitality: no matter what time of day I walk in, how I’m feeling, or what I’ve been through, I am offered a drink. I am offered food. Someone prepares it for me and sets it before me. I pray over my food and eat surrounded by a warm blanket of noise: conversations I’m not a part of, laughter, a story told in Spanish, a couple talking in hushed tones, a man flirting with a server, a song I haven’t heard in a decade from the neon jukebox.
Maybe all this seems accidental, but I think the WaHo culture was deliberately created. Have you ever walked into a Waffle House and noticed a laminated list of “House Rules” posted close to the door or above the grill? It proudly proclaims, “You are welcome in Our House,” and notes that they will tolerate no discrimination for any reason. Maybe it’s silly, but I’m always touched by that. I believe it.
WaHo also has it’s very own language, an important part of creating a culture. I can “hold the yolks” and get my hashbrowns “smothered, covered, topped, and capped.” I don’t just order a sandwich or chili: I order Aunt Lib’s patty melt and Bert’s Chili. You’re automatically an insider if you know the lingo — and if you don’t, it’s on the menu. So welcome inside.
I guess that’s what it is — in a world where everyone suddenly seems so combative and self-centered, so willing to divide and exclude, Waffle House is the epitome of inclusivity. My faith alienates some people and my politics alienate the others, so I often feel like I’m on the outside of circles. I just don’t fit. The easy labels don’t work. And since I’m a sensitive person, I really feel the barbs from both sides. No wonder inclusivity means a lot to me.
I feel like I’m writing a grade school essay on my favorite place, but maybe that’s what I needed to go back to tonight. Maybe I needed things to become a little simpler, a little warmer.
Speaking of warmth, this Broiled Southern Pimiento Cheese goes a long way toward comforting the soul. Just like Waffle House is one of my absolute favorite places, pimiento cheese is one of my absolute favorite foods. I ordered a version that had been topped with a bit of extra sharp cheddar and broiled into a warm dip at a restaurant in Raleigh, and after one bite, I knew I had to recreate it. You’re going to adore it!
What’s your Waffle House?
One year ago: Fresh Open-Faced California Sandwich
Two years ago: How to Make 27+ Cheesecakes and Look Awesome While Doing It
Three years ago: Barefoot Contessa’s Carrot Pineapple Cake
My Favorite Southern Pimiento Cheese
Recipe by: Adapted from Paula Deen, and inspired by NOFO @ The Pig’s broiled pimiento cheese dip
Yield: about 2 cups of dip
I’m a pimiento cheese addict — I love it slathered on two slices of white bread, baked into something amazing, or just eaten as a fantastic dip. This is the best pimiento cheese I’ve ever had — much better than any I can find in the grocery store for sure! This recipe adds a few hot peppers for heat and then broils the pimiento cheese to create a warm, bubbly, comforting dip you’re going to love.
3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups grated sharp cheddar*, plus extra to mix in and for topping at the end
1/2 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise**
2 teaspoons minced hot peppers (jalapeños or your favorite), or to taste
1/4 teaspoon McCormick’s roasted garlic salt*** (or regular if you can’t find it)
pinch of ground pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons pimientos, smashed
*I usually use two different cheddars. Food Lion Extra Sharp Cheddar is my favorite cheese ever (and no, they did not sponsor this post) and I usually mix it with another brand of cheddar I enjoy.
**Hellmann’s is the only mayonnaise I ever, ever use, and no, they also did not sponsor this post.
***McCormick also did not sponsor this post, but I haven’t seen roasted garlic salt from anyone else and I like theirs.
In a food processor (you can also do this by hand, but the food processor makes it a bit easier), mix the cream cheese until fluffy. Add cheese, mayonnaise, hot peppers, garlic salt, pepper, and smashed pimientos and mix until combined. If serving as a cold dip, spoon the mixture out into a serving bowl, mixing in the unused freshly grated cheese for texture.
If serving as a broiled dip, preheat the broiler. Spoon the mixture equally into shallow ramekins and top with unused freshly grated cheese. Be sure your ramekins are safe for broiling — I chanced it very carefully, but glass is not recommended for broiling — try to find some shallow metal pans or some small cast iron skillets instead. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese is browned and bubbly, rotating the pan several times. Allow to cool slightly before serving with crackers, strips of bacon, charred toast, and/or crudites.
Waffle House also did not sponsor this post and doesn’t know I exist (except my favorite servers, who remember me every time!) I just love WaHo and wanted to share my thoughts about it with you.
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Mary @ Fervent FoodieNovember 9, 2012 at 3:50 am (11 years ago)
I am very sentimental when it comes to Waffle House. As a kid, the family would make the 17 hour drive from Ohio to Florida every March. We’d stop in Georgia to sleep, and the next morning we’d hit up Waffle House. I’d get eggs and hashbrowns and grits, not because I liked them, but because sometime around the age of ten I decided it was the thing to do when in the south 🙂
Julie @ Willow Bird BakingNovember 9, 2012 at 3:51 am (11 years ago)
Aww, I love that, Mary!! Your ten-year-old self was very wise 🙂
sreebinduNovember 9, 2012 at 5:44 am (11 years ago)
oh! I want to stay home and just eat it all the time watching tv.
Julie @ Willow Bird BakingNovember 9, 2012 at 11:33 am (11 years ago)
Me too! 🙂
JessieNovember 9, 2012 at 12:26 pm (11 years ago)
I feel the same way you do about Waffle House, for sure! Every location I have eaten at, in any state at any time, has felt much warmer, cozier, and satisfying than ANY other chain restaurant I’ve ever been to. The servers are always the sweetest people. I wish I could eat those waffles (gluten intolerant :(. ) They are so crispy on the outside and soft and heavily vanilla scented on the inside….YUM!
And as for your feeling alone and alienated because of your unique mix of views and beliefs, you are not alone!! I am not at all religious. I hold science as the sole source for explaining our existence. That might create a deep rift between people like you and me, but when I read your posts, I can’t see that at all. I see a very sweet, enthusiastic person who shares a lot of the same views that I have about relating to the outside world (my insecurities run deep) and of course FOOD 😀 But rambling aside here, thank you for being you and keep sharing!
Julie @ Willow Bird BakingNovember 9, 2012 at 12:33 pm (11 years ago)
Aw, Jessie, that’s really sweet of you to say and means a lot to me, girl. Thank you!!
Lauren at Keep It SweetNovember 9, 2012 at 1:59 pm (11 years ago)
I seriously love this post, Julie. I actually think you make your readers feel like Waffle House makes you feel.
KarlyNovember 9, 2012 at 3:12 pm (11 years ago)
You’re such a beautiful writer.
Now, moving past that, I would like to stick my entire head in that dish of broiled cheese.
Diana @ The Chic LifeNovember 9, 2012 at 3:26 pm (11 years ago)
I love the idea of broiled pimiento cheese! I only recently had pimiento cheese not cold for the first time at Dish, but I don’t think they broil it. Anywho, all this time I had it cold, but it’s so much better hot, and I bet the broiling really takes it over the top. Yum! 🙂
AlaNovember 9, 2012 at 5:56 pm (11 years ago)
We don’t have a WaHo here per se, but (although I never thought this would be the case!) my safe place is the farmer’s market we have here every week. There’s a stall at the very end of the row with lots of random produce, and the guy who works there is the first person for whom I’ve become a “regular.” It always makes my day to see his face light up when I show up, and he’ll tease about how he thought I wasn’t going to make it or about how he had been saving up some strawberries for me (I buy about two flats every time I go). It’s such a nice feeling knowing somebody’s been waiting for you to make their day as much as they make mine–thank you for sharing this, Julie!
Sabrina ModelleNovember 9, 2012 at 6:45 pm (11 years ago)
I just love you so much. You’ve made my eyes water, a bit this morning. I want to say to you, think of my heart like a Waffle House, you’re always welcome here.
SharlaNovember 9, 2012 at 10:04 pm (11 years ago)
This post made me cry – in a good way. It’s such a great feeling to read something and think yes, yes that’s what I feel too!! Love it!!
BrandyNovember 10, 2012 at 12:00 am (11 years ago)
I want to run up to you and hug you so hard! I love your posts. I love the stories that have really, not much to do with the recipe. It’s like when your grandmother gives you her favorite recipe. It always comes with a story, rarely about the recipe at all. 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to write for us! We all appreciate you so very much! xoxoxoxox
MartyNovember 10, 2012 at 11:24 am (11 years ago)
What a beautifully written post. Thank you. Now I’m thinking we may need waffles at the very least for breakfast.
Jenny @ BAKENovember 10, 2012 at 6:05 pm (11 years ago)
this looks incredible! it would be such a hit with the guys whilst watching sports! I really want to go to a Waho now!
JnnNovember 12, 2012 at 1:17 am (11 years ago)
Just in time for the holidays! I think this will be a big hit.
Model ChefNovember 12, 2012 at 3:11 pm (11 years ago)
Wow, looks incredible! I went to a Waffle House for the first time a few years ago. The food was good, but the experience even better. Thanks for sharing your recipes!
KathyNovember 14, 2012 at 6:42 pm (11 years ago)
Oh Julie. Bless you for being who you are and being unafraid to share. I so enjoy your stories and your recipes. It is good to have a place (or a person) that comforts, calms, and loves you for who you are.
Maybe I’ll make this for Thanksgiving, at least one person won’t sqwabble about the fat in the cheese, and together we will enjoy. 🙂
AggieNovember 16, 2012 at 1:21 am (11 years ago)
I just love your writing…
I have a soft spot in my heart for Waffle House. It was conveniently located across the street from the sports bar I worked at in college, and needless to stay, we had our fair share of meals there during the hours between 3 and 5 am. Good times. I always remember a night when one of my friends just started buying random customers slices of pecan pie…just because. 🙂
Oh and this bowl of cheesy goodness? Amazing. I don’t know if I’d be able to share.
Crystal ClarkNovember 18, 2012 at 5:16 pm (11 years ago)
Your dip looks yummy! I find your writing very easy to read and loved sitting there readying your story. It’s okay to write an essay on a blog sometimes. 🙂
EmmieNovember 24, 2012 at 9:59 pm (11 years ago)
I love your blog. My husband has joked about opening a Waffle House for years, and I do understand what you mean about how comforting it is. You do an amazing job of weaving story into your recipes. Thanks for sharing with us.
Julie @ Willow Bird BakingNovember 30, 2012 at 11:55 pm (11 years ago)
Thanks so much, Emmie!
CatherineDecember 4, 2012 at 5:06 pm (11 years ago)
Oh my goodness! I am a southern California native, but once had Pimiento Cheese on white bread, when visiting Alabama. It was the nastiest thing I had ever tasted, so have avoided it to this day.
However, I now realize that it isn’t meant to be made with Miracle Whip, it was just our host’s choice of (not)mayo.
Now THIS sounds delicious. Many apologies to pimiento cheese! I am looking forward to trying you the way you are meant to taste!
Jessica @ Jessiker BakesDecember 19, 2012 at 10:24 pm (10 years ago)
No one understands my insane love for this cheese…it is the best cheese mix in the entire world. Girl, you got me with this. Love your blog forever.
BreeJanuary 4, 2013 at 2:23 am (10 years ago)
Love your writing….]I feel a bit of myself in it. Then, I found out you were an educator as well, and I am even more hooked. I battle discouragement constantly, feeling like I have six jobs. Then I find your site and kick myself for having such a pity party. You are inspiring, no doubt, and I look forward to reading more! Thank you for sharing!
SamanthaApril 5, 2013 at 2:14 pm (10 years ago)
Oh my gosh! You have a recipe for this…! I had it my grilled cheese in Savannah, GA at this amazing art gallery & lunch place, and I had no idea what was in it and have been dying to recreate it….
Just one question– do you think I can substitute in Greek yogurt for the mayo? I’m on a low-fat diet and the cheese is already enough…
Julie RubleApril 5, 2013 at 2:34 pm (10 years ago)
Thanks, Samantha! I think it will take out some of the richness and add more of a tang, so it will definitely be a different flavor, but no point in not trying! 🙂
Julie RubleApril 5, 2013 at 2:35 pm (10 years ago)
Also feel free to sub in neufchâtel cheese for the cream cheese.
SamanthaApril 18, 2013 at 2:02 pm (10 years ago)
Thanks so much for the suggestions! Neufchâtel cheese sounds amazing. I’ll see if my cheese guys have any! (If not, they may have something that will taste similar). Will let you know how the Greek Yogurt Experiment turns out. Tang is sounds very nice, but I may miss the richness… dunno. As you said, it is certainly worth a try. 🙂