I drive back to Ma’s house for major holidays, a boring (for the most part) four-hour drive on major highways to get upstate. Lately I drive at night to get an extra full day with family. The halfway point of the trip is Scranton, where Interstate 380 meets I-81, and marks about the point where traffic drops off precipitously. So it’s a good place to stop for a soda or, if I’m in the mood, a quick bite. Only, what is there in that area besides the standard fast food?
You are looking at what I was told is the northernmost Waffle House in all of the United States. A few miles north of Scranton, Pennsylvania, at exit 194 on Interstate 81, lies this always-open oasis. There’s a sign on the highway directing you not to lose this opportunity to enjoy a Waffle House meal in bucolic Clarks Summit.
I’d driven halfway to my destination this Christmas Eve Eve, so Waffle House coffee was in order while I looked at the laminated menu-slash-placemat. Yes, I thought about taking a coffee cup home with me. The coffee isn’t anything special, standard diner fare, but hot plus constant refills equals win.
I knew what I wanted, and the pleasant waitress dutifully wrote down my order: large hash browns, scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, peppered and country, plus a buttermilk waffle.
The hash browns — in my case, a large order, base price $2.45 — begin by being Scattered on the grill. You can see two of the options I chose: Chunked, with “hickory smoked” ham, and Peppered, with jalapenos. Smothered in onions decided not to be photogenic, but they’re in there.
At the last minute, the whole mess is Covered with American cheese. If the menu tells you cheese is an option, do you have a problem passing it up, too?
Presentation isn’t a hallmark of Waffle House, but good, kinda-greasy, filling food definitely defines the place. So much stuff is folded into the hash browns that each forkful seemed to have all my options. But I know I wanted my hash browns five ways. What was missing?
Ah, yes: Country, with sausage gravy. The cook had forgotten this, the newest option, so I received a bowl of gravy dotted with sausage on the side. Note that none of my five options cost more than an extra 70 cents. The total cost for this dinner plate-sized order of hash browns? $4.85.
Are the hash browns good at Waffle House? Oh my, yes. Really good. The potatoes get a fairly good crisping, as you can see, and while the onions and cheese might disappear from forkful to forkful, you’re confronted with diced ham or jalapeno slices all the time, and I’m never going to grow tired of those tastes.
I’d ordered a buttermilk waffle, since buttermilk costs the same as regular; however, they’d run out of that batter, and I wasn’t in the mood to wait for more to be prepared. Regular waffle it is.
That is a “whipped spread”, mind you, and the syrup is likely your average HFCS, but I’m pretty sure no Michelin stars are in Waffle House’s future. So you make do with a tasty, tasty waffle drenched in syrup, the perfect complement to a mess of hash browns.
It’s not Belgian-waffle sized, it’s Waffle House-sized. And it’s $2.65. Keeping with a theme, the Waffle House waffle nearly takes up the plate, is undoubtedly not good for you, but has a sweetness and lightness that satisfies. I’ve had enough dense waffles at diners to appreciate the difference with this.
All told, my late dinner came out to a bit over $9 without tip. I sat at the counter instead of sitting near the couple of groups in booths in the otherwise-empty restaurant. The waitress was friendly and attentive, and I could watch the food being prepared, not that I could imagine problems with such simple comfort dishes. Of course I’ll be back — whenever I drive through that area, the pull from the bright yellow sign is going to be difficult to resist!