Waysider champions breakfast food, Alabama tradition

Waysider exists simultaneously as an obscure hole-in-the-wall and a local institution. Some folks go four years and breeze out of town without ever hearing of the place. On the other hand, anybody in the know reveres the quaint red shack like a shrine to breakfast food. Legend has it even Paul “Bear” Bryant used to sit down for coffee at Waysider.

The menu consists mostly of short order breakfast mainstays. You’ve got your eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, pancakes, French toast, grits, etc., but whether there’s magic in the griddle, the ingredients or both, the flavors whisk you back to Grandma’s kitchen. Country ham might not have ever been your meal of choice, but the center-cut ham from Waysider is a must try at least once. It’s tender, juicy and salty enough to chase away any of last night’s lingering adventures. Served next to a pair of perfectly fried eggs ... just get the ham. It’s that good.

Some other standout menu items include the red-eye gravy and the biscuits. Red-eye gravy was traditionally a poor man’s sauce made from bacon drippings and black coffee. Whether you dip your biscuit in it, mix it in your grits or pour it over your aforementioned country ham, there’s no wrong way to eat it. Now, more importantly, let’s get back to the biscuits.

You might walk in expecting the commonplace dough mountains of goodness that you’ll find in most restaurants around the Southeast, but Waysider takes a slightly more elegant approach to the art of biscuit making. They’re tiny – you could even call them cute. The biscuits look like something you’d see on the cover of your mother’s Southern Living magazine. However, if everyone ate them for breakfast, I think the crime rate would drop. They’re fluffy, flaky, buttery and loaded with honey. They’ll find a special place in your stomach next to summer peach cobbler, county fair food and other such ?‘Merican things.

So the food is amazing, but the atmosphere at Waysider brings it all home. The restaurant is a little red shack with white trim just off Greensboro past 15th. Flowers are in bloom out front all summer and fall, and there’s a porch to wait on in case the tiny dining room is full. Not unlike most Tuscaloosa restaurants, the walls are covered entirely in old Alabama sports memorabilia, but the idea of the Bear sitting down here adds a little stamp of authenticity to the newspaper clippings.

Now there’s plenty to love about Waysider, but like the country ham or red eye gravy, it’s just not for everyone. It can be packed, loud and slow. The waitresses can be crotchety, and they’re always in a hurry. But the cracks in the mold make Waysider perfect. The flaws transform what could be just another short-order diner into an experience in lazy Alabama mornings.

The slow service is a lesson in relaxing while you wait. The general din of your neighbors brings to mind the bustle of family holidays. The waitresses possess a beauty and grace you can only get from working hard to serve others. So take a deep breath, smell the flowers, soak in the atmosphere, smile at your waitress, order the ham, try the gravy, tip generously and share your meal with a friend. I have a feeling breakfast at Waysider will be an experience you’ll be itching to live again and again. Enjoy.

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