Sunday, April 18, 2010

Culinary Historians visit the Waffle House Museum!

Decatur, GA - April 2010
The Newest Way to Give Yourself a Treat” at the Waffle House Museum

2.6 billion customers have visited a Waffle House restaurant over the past 55 years, and last weekend 26 CHA members visited the Waffle House museum to soak up some nostalgia. 

Located on East College Avenue in Decatur, this small museum is free and open to the public during the week and one weekend day per month. If you missed the event then you missed exploring a 1955 era Waffle House complete with menus featuring $1.50 steaks, a compact open kitchen with bacon “cooking” on the grill, and a storage area with ice box pie. 

A gallery next door includes memorabilia and some groovy uniforms from the sixties. If you go be sure to talk with the guide, she has free waffle coupons you can use at the Waffle House restaurant down the street.

I was great fun to go behind the counter and play with the plastic food. As you can see in the above photo, it looked like the real thing. 

One of the most amazing things about this museum was to see the "commissary" in the back. This is where the prep work and a good bit of the actual cooking really took place. 

The commissary is a kitchen - not much larger than a home kitchen, but with a commercial stove and plenty of storage shelves. It was presided over by one woman, Aunt Millie (who was really the aunt of one of the owners). She had a part time helper in the person of her great-nephew, who would ride his bike to the restaurant after school. 

In the commissary, she made pies, biscuits and other items from scratch. She also came up with the method for making those marvelous Waffle House home fries. After much experimentation, she found that the potatoes should be steamed first, then peeled, then shredded. Then, and this is where the boy-helper came in, 5 oz. servings were weighed out. Each serving was placed in a small paper bag. When the short order cook in the front of the diner needed to cook an order, he just dumped the already-softened potatoes on the grill to be browned. Aunt Millie and her helper cooked, peeled, and shredded 150 lbs. of russet potatoes every day. They used a mechanical device for the peeling and shredding, but it was still a lot of hand work. 

Almost everything was made from scratch in those days. No more, unfortunately. Nowadays, convenience reigns over flavor. There is a commissary in every Waffle House. It's larger and more high tech, but very little is made from scratch any more. 

On another note: Does anyone know the people in our photo?? They were newbies and we didn't get their names!!

Article by Karen Gilbreath and Deb Duchon
Photo by Matthew Wong