Monday, January 17, 2005

Back on the chain gang

Birding with Perfect Tommy isn’t just a hobby, it’s an adventure. Take yesterday. We had whittled the day’s possibilities down to two: chasing a rare bird in western Pennsylvania, or a different rare bird on Cape Cod. Perfect Tommy was leaning towards the Cape, which is insane for a day trip from central Jersey. Then he discovered that a couple of Waffle Houses range as far north as Pennsylvania. Just like that, Pennsylvania became our destination. As usual, The Lurker and I were content to trail along in the Perfect Tommy slipstream, just because it’s so entertaining.

It was my first time at a Waffle House. Perfect Tommy even e-mailed links to preparatory reading on Saturday night to supply context for the outing. It seems that the Waffle House has a kind of mystique and even has released a couple of CDs devoted to Waffle House-themed songs. Perfect Tommy was very disappointed that the CDs weren’t prominently displayed for sale at the Waffle House we visited.

Well, cut to the food. The eggs were eggs, the coffee (highly lauded in some quarters) was just decent coffee, the bacon pieces were big but dry. But the hash browns were pretty good. They weren’t what I expected: I’m used to hash browns made up of chunks of potato with more breading. These were lightly grilled and made up of golden strings of potato. They were much lighter than I expected, which was a good thing because they were huge. Then there were the grits, which were just about perfect. They weren’t runny and the grains were distinct and almost crunchy. They were the best grits I’ve had in quite a long time.

The solid meal kept us going for most of the cold day’s birding, but eventually supper had to be taken care of. We wound up at a Charlie Brown’s where, coincidentally, we had eaten almost exactly a year before on another birding trip to Pennsylvania. This happenstance was roundly hailed as cosmic synchronicity at its best. Last year, The Lurker had been so pleased with his baby back ribs that I vowed to have some should we ever return. Well, I ended up having the mushroom prime rib instead. It was an inexcusable splash-out, but I never cook steak at home, because the results are unimpressive and it costs too much money. I’d rather spend even more money once in a while to go to a restaurant that will do it right. Prime rib is the main reason I will never become a total vegetarian. Plus, the leftovers I brought home were dinner tonight, so I got two meals out of it.

I feel kind of guilty blogging about chains but I have to credit good food where I find it. Sometimes that happens to be at a chain restaurant. I love learning to put together a good Asian meal, and I love eating at unique restaurants, but there's something to be said for a chain that knows how to do certain things right, just so long as you don't mistake that for the entire universe of food.

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