James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

A Brief Introduction to Waffle House Hash Browns

A Brief Introduction to Waffle House Hash Browns

Hash Browns in Pensacola

WAFFLE HOUSE. Those ubiquitous yellow-and-black block letters that populate the landscape of American highways are a beacon to those who want to order steak and eggs before dawn without being judged.

Both an exhilarating freedom and a paralyzing dread take hold when you face the prospect of ordering at a restaurant where everything on the menu is available 24 hours a day. Will I regret eating this patty melt at 9 a.m.? What will sustain me more after a night of revelry: a pecan waffle slathered with margarine and imbued with the essence of high-fructose pancake syrup, or a plate of scrambled eggs garnished with two limp slices of pale-orange pasteurized cheese product?

Despite the menu’s vast possibilities, it’s the hash browns that stand alone as the symbol of America’s unofficial diner. Waffle House claims to have served over 1.8 billion orders of hash browns, surpassing even the number of cups of coffee. They come with staggering amounts of topping combinations, ranging from diced tomatoes to a heaping ladle of chili. Mine are always scattered, well done, smothered with onions, and finished off with a double portion of pickled jalapeños that have some char from the griddle. The misguided among you can keep your American cheese and grilled mushrooms.

On a warm, late-summer morning my breakfast arrives, a pile of hash browns dominating the plate. It’s impossible to resist diving in immediately, always aiming for the perfect mouthful: crispy yet slightly greasy, salty and spicy, with a perfect acidic bite to round things out. Their accompaniment this morning is a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on Texas toast, but it’s clear where the real star power lies.

The hash browns are woven into the fabric of Waffle House so deeply that it still astonishes me to hear someone opt for grits instead, despite my affection for creamy cornmeal porridge. (Pro tip: Waffle House does not excel in seasoning their grits, in my experience.)

There’s a comfort in knowing that whether you’re staring down the indomitable traffic on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, pulling off a dusty highway just a few dozen miles from the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, or admiring the lush farmland in upstate New York, those hash browns are always there for you, just the way you like them.

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