Calling All Nighthawks

Why We Love the Waffle House

While the world sleeps, breakfast—and an iconic American experience—await.

Photography by Cooper Levey-Baker January 25, 2016 Published in the February 2016 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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At all hours, in all moods, people find their way to the Waffle House. Even when the rest of the world is asleep, in the small hours of the night, they come. Red-eyed nurses running on fumes after pulling a double. Lovestruck boyfriends hustling up the Interstate to visit a long-distance girlfriend. Blitzed revelers looking for a place to twerk on tabletops and sober up a bit.

In search of what? Sustenance. Companionship. But more than just that. The bright globe lanterns, the crimson vinyl, the boxy golden sign—they promise a vanishing American experience. There’s no gluten-free option here, no fancy cheese or turkey bacon, just a collection of iconic diner items cooked in front of you and handed over immediately by solicitous servers. A highlight: hash browns, woven with ingredients like sautéed onions and jalapeños and seared on one of the restaurant’s big flattops. Another: the pecan waffle, a thin disc of griddled dough studded with little nobs of nuts. A third: an endless cup of coffee, poured black as midnight on a moonless night.

Plastered on the walls are sepia photos of Waffle House days gone by. Hungry diners pull up to the bar, which runs almost the length of the restaurant. Waiters gossip while swiping cards. It’s dark out, but here, inside, everything is bright. The light turns the insides of the windows into wide mirrors that reflect back the steam from the flattop, the caddies loaded with ketchup and Tabasco, the yellow checks bearing scrawled orders. And then, in that reflection, there you are. You’re smiling. You’re here, too.

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