Strip Waffle House finalist for culinary awardBy Alex Cohen | 03/29/2012 11:10pm
The James Beard Foundation — the national authority on all things culinary — recently announced their awards’ finalists for 2012. The state of Alabama was well represented on the list, garnering attention in many categories, such as Best Southern Chef and Outstanding Restaurant. The latter category included two Alabama restaurants: Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham and the Waffle House on the Strip in Tuscaloosa.
“We’re excited to be among such great company,” said Matt Schneider, head chef at Waffle House on The Strip. “My colleague, Frank Stitts at Highlands, is an excellent chef.”
This is the first culinary award Waffle House has received since its founding in 1955. Schneider contends that the sudden recognition may have something to do with their newly diversified menu.
“We’ve been doing a lot of different things with the waffles,” Schneider said. “Blueberries, strawberries, chocolate — we have a lot of waffles.”
The James Beard Foundation compiled a list of menu choices deemed perfect for different occasions:
“If you’re dining alone, get the waffles and coffee,” he said. "To impress a date, be sure to try the waffles and coffee. To excite your business colleagues, order the waffles and house. These eclectic and savory choices offer something for every type of dining experience.”
In the restaurant’s almost 60-year tenure, it has served over 800 million waffles, 2.5 billion eggs and enough cups of coffee to fill nearly 400 Olympic swimming pools. Despite the rich history, many customers are puzzled by the award.
“You’re kidding me,” said Debbie Howard, a graduate student studying elementary education. “The James Beard Foundation clearly made an egregious error by overlooking the McDonald’s in Northport.”
On the other hand, many customers think the acknowledgment is overdue.
“My wife and I have eaten at Waffle House every day for the last 20 years,” said Billy Bob Santorum, a Tuscaloosa area man. “And this new one is a classy joint.”
Haley Simpson, a junior majoring in apparel design, also described the place as a favorite destination for date night.
“Whenever my boyfriend and I want to go out for a nice meal and a bag of wine, we go to Waffle House,” Simpson said.
Those who do not frequent the restaurant are also intrigued.
“I drive down the Strip every night,” said Harlan Lane, professor of social psychology. “The line is always long, and those men in the tuxes make it seem even more exclusive. I really hope to go some day; I’ll have to avoid the dinner rush.”
Avoiding that dinner rush may be easier than Lane thinks. The Waffle House experiences its largest influx of customers around 2 a.m. every morning, when neighboring businesses and bars close. This reporter visited the restaurant during this busy hour. Many people had no idea they were waiting in line at an award-winning establishment.
“I’m here to vomit,” said David Kidder, a sophomore majoring in business administration.
When asked to comment on the award, Bert Thornton, president of Waffle House, replied, “What?”