I make no pretense of objectivity here; I am a rabid partisan of Waffle House, all the more so because for half my life I was forced to endure the substandard food and poor service of IHOP. This may seem paradoxical, given that when I was a teenager IHOP was one of several chain restaurants in the area and I had no opinion about it one way or the other. It was no better or worse than Denny's or Ranch House or the other remaining diners in Prince Georges County, Maryland. They were all pretty much of a muchness, no better and no worse than the Air Force mess hall my Dad used to take me to as a treat before the weekly commissary run.
It's possible that my long stay in the Great American Desert may have sharpened my appreciation for the finer points of the traditional American breakfast, and particularly for the things like grits which you just couldn't get there unless you made them yourself. Minneapolis, whatever its other (and numerous) shortcomings, has a sizable collection of little hole-in-the-wall neighborhood diners and cafes, some of them open only for breakfast; the Denny's and IHOPs tend to be out in the suburbs where those diners and cafes don't exist. It is certain that by the time I loaded my wife and kids into a rented minivan and drove back east to visit my parents in 1995, I was primed to fall in love with the Waffle House.
We stopped at a Waffle House outside of Indianapolis around 1 AM on the second day of the drive, and we all demolished plates of eggs and bacon and toast and hash browns and waffles while I played every country tune on the jukebox I recognized and a few that I didn't, much to the discomfiture of the kids and the amusement of my wife. Later we hit another one in Ohio, and the deal was sealed. From then on, no cross-country trip was complete without a stop at the Waffle House somewhere along the way. Once I was back in Minneapolis, the inevitable comparisons to IHOP were made. IHOP had a wider selection of food, but it also had worse service (on average), a horrible inconsistency in food quality, and an ever-changing staff of waiters and waitresses whose comprehension of English was not always the best. In truth, during my years working on Anime Detour when I went there most often, the sole virtue of the IHOP was that it could usually seat the 20-30 staff and guests on Monday morning for the Dead Dog's Breakfast after the loadout had been completed.
Now that I'm living in Northern Virginia, I feel as if I'm still in enemy territory, living in a strange lacuna where the vile Yankee excrescences of IHOP are everywhere but the Waffle House is nowhere. When I want to get my Waffle House breakfast on, I have to go south to Quantico or north to Frederick. It's worth it, though. The menu may not be as extensive at Waffle House, but the short-order cooks and waitresses know what they're doing. The food lives up to the motto "Good Food Fast", the service is prompt and not only do I understand the waitresses, they understand me, and I have yet to be greeted with anything but the warmest of Southern hospitality. You can eat at IHOP if you want to, where they sneakily mix pancake batter in with the eggs, but I'll gladly drive most of an hour to get an honest plate of eggs and sausage, and every so often when my blood sugar permits it, I'll get some hash browns scattered, smothered, covered and chunked. The way they're supposed to be.