My 3-Year-Old's 3 Favorite Places

I took all four kids to basketball practice last night. We often hit Starbucks for some hot chocolate on the way back, but yesterday we went straight home. The kids were disappointed but took the news that we were skipping the hot chocolate stop with equanimity. Still, the three-year-old wasn't able to stay totally silent on the topic. In between telling me which traffic lights were red and which were green, he mentioned the three other places he would have like to have gone if he couldn't go to Starbucks. He proclaimed these to be his "three favorite places".

[caption id="attachment_9506" align="aligncenter" width="311" caption="Pay attention. The light is green."][/caption]

1. Waffle House. The perfect family stop, particularly on road trips. And for those too picky to eat at a Waffle House, I say phooey. If you know me, you know that I'm snob enough for you and your mom. And your mom's kind of a snob. The key to eating Waffle House is knowing what to order.

For example, it is my firm belief that "American cheese" in an abomination unto the Lord (I'm not taking anything in vain; I really believe that). So none is ordered. I believe that pre-sliced "white" bread makes the angels weep; I used to not order it, but when it blew one too many waitresses' minds, I decided to just leave it on the side of the plate.

Some object that Waffle Houses are dirty. Some might be. But please consider two things before passing judgment. The first is that you should be grateful you haven't seen very many restaurant kitchens. Many many many restaurants are dirty. Imagine what happens at an Outback or a Chili's where no one can see what happens in the kitchen. The open layout actually tends to lead to a high standard of cleanliness. Here in South Carolina health inspection scores are publicly posted (but don't even get me started on those inspections!). The second thing to consider is that there are two kinds of dirt in restaurants: unsanitary filth and trash. If you show up at a Waffle House after a rush and you sit in the right place you'll see trash on the floor behind the bar and too much waffle batter run off around the irons; don't worry about it.

I have spoken too long on dirt in Waffle Houses. This is supposed to be a joyful piece. So let's talk about what the family orders when we roll into a Waffle House.

I am by far the most regular Waffle House eater, since I'm the only one ever awake between 1 and 5 a.m., which is the absolute best time to hit a WH. I rock a 3-egg omelet, no cheese (down with American), ham and onions. Triple hash browns. Lots of Tabasco. Beauty. They've got omelet-making down to a fluffy science over there. You don't even have to chew the omelet; I usually just tongue the egg cloud apart until I get to the ham and onion. I used to order their Fiesta Omelet with no cheese, but between still being charged for the cheese and preferring my kick from Tabasco over jalapenos, I made the switch. Actually, a waitress suggested I do it this way, and it saves me nearly two bucks every time. See? Gotta know how to order.

Each of the kids orders a waffle, sometimes with chocolate chips. We have four kids so we order two sets of two, with extra plates. We're all cute and well-behaved, so the waitresses smilingly comply. The six-year-old boy rocked it big kid style last time by ordering a sausage biscuit; he liked it, but I hope he goes back to the waffle. I don't like eating waffles, but for some reason I love watching the kidlets eat 'em. Sticky syrup and child-like joy.

We all stuff ourselves and pass food around communally. Everyone eats some of my hash browns. Some of the kids try Tabasco. The big kids and I dish out the syrup, cut up the waffles, and hand out napkins. We stuff our faces.

So, yeah, the three-year-old loves to see the big yellow block letter signs that promise him waffles as big as his head.

2. Mojo's Famous Burgers. Mojo's is a lot like Five Guys, but with a little more of a diner feel. The logo has fire on it, the cooks aren't in high school, and all have tattoos. Otherwise it's exactly like Five Guys. Meat's not quite as good, menu variety is much better, but otherwise it's exactly like Five Guys. Oh, and they serve beer, but otherwise it's exactly like Five Guys.

Every Monday night Mojo's does a Kids Eat Free night. Two kids per parent, which works out perfectly for us. Each kid gets a kid-sized burger, which is easily bigger than nearly every chain burger out there, a huge portion of fries, and a drink. It is absolutely a hot-diggetty-dog-danged deal. As you can imagine, we've become regulars. We even meet friends there. So do other families, for that matter; it's absolutely a kid-filled blast.

Mojo's has some absolutely ridiculous food challenges. Ab Soh Loot Leigh. Ridiculous. Of course, if you eat them, they're free. I decided to pay for the right to take on a junior edition of their hamburger challenge (they have a hot dog one that seems even more...overwhelming). So I took on a Double Coronary, which, again, is not even a challenge. Double stacked chubby burger with american cheese, chili, bacon, and fried eggs between two grilled cheese sandwiches. Yes, you read that right. All of the sandwich is stacked in between two grilled cheese sandwiches. And you have to eat all the fries. I honestly don't remember if I finished it (although I'm sure my wife could tell you). What I do remember is feeling full for three days, and realizing that I was not enough of a man to take on the Quadruple Coronary. I'd been so sure I'd be able to, the Double Coronary had only been a scouting mission...but I was turned back and retreated in shame. The men who eat these burgers are giants, and we will never defeat them.

[caption id="attachment_9500" align="aligncenter" width="378" caption="Yes, that's "American cheese"."][/caption]

So you can see we're talking about a quality establishment. Number two on the little kid's list.

3. The Browns' House. The neighbor who lives behind us. When wife and kids head over there, they jump on the trampoline, maybe watch a cartoon, and eat brownies and cookies and crackers and cakes and mints and candies and lollipops. The good Mrs. Brown wonders why our baby boy loves her so; it is because she bought that love with tasty treats.

Which she did to my wife too, by the way. Look at this cake.

When I arrive home from work I hope that wife and kids aren't there. I run into the kitchen and look for the note telling me they're with the Browns. I run out the back door, leap over the fence, barge in through the garage, and cast my eye about for the cookie jar. I start talking loudly and wiping crumbs from the three-year-old's face to make it seem like I'm there to bustle everyone home. But I always manage to hang around long enough to sample all the treats. I might share them with the little one; he and I understand that we're being sneaky.

Browns' House: almost as good as going to Mojo's.


  1. So... Mojo's is EXACTLY like Five Guys?

    I hope someday I'm someone's Mrs. Brown. Ward will tell his children about her - I want that kind of legacy!

  2. As far as I'm concerned, WH is /strictly/ for late night dining, preferably with slightly rowdy (but certainly not uncivil) drinking buddies. Having worked in fine dining, many people seem shocked that I would grace Waffle House with my presence. There are many factors at work here:
    1) As you noted, at WH, you can see the kitchen, and it's rarely any messier than any establishment that I've worked at would be after serving that many people.
    2) They're going to cook my over-easy eggs exactly the same way that any five-star restaurant worth its rating would.
    3) Most nationally recognized chefs I have worked with have a deep-seated love for greasy-spoon diner food, some even to the point of having a bar menu in their swanky, $50-a-plate restaurant that includes classics like pork rinds, grilled cheese sandwiches, BLTs, and fried pickles. Don't be shocked if you see one in Waffle House after service at his restaurant is over.
    4) I can get out the door with a full belly for well under ten bucks, even after my usually generous tip.

    What's not to like?

  3. I used to avoid Waffle Houses. But I learned that some have basically non-existent smoking areas. That's the difference. If you can avoid cigarette smoke, it's a great place to eat.

    When I would take my kids, we'd split the All-Star breakfast. I'd splurge and let them get a cherry Sprite.

  4. What a glimpse into the mind of a three year old...or perhaps more accurately into the mind of a giant! To learn that your children have a calmness of mind in the midst of chocolate deprivation speaks highly of your parenting skills.

    Oh and by the by, I know you and have seen your fence so the mental image of you jumping it to visit with Mrs. Brown, well her treats must be nothing less than extraordinary!


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