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I’m studying the drink section of the carnival-meets-deli menu at Pallookaville Fine Foods, wrapping my head around the list of over thirty soda fountain syrup flavors. Some options sound like death by sweetness (butterscotch, marshmallow), others intrigue (including papaya and especially tiger’s blood, which combines watermelon, strawberry, and coconut). But finally I fall back on a favorite treat from the rare soda fountains—already a dying breed in the 1980s—that I encountered in my youth.
I don’t wear a hairnet for just anybody. But when Rusty Bowers, the baby-blue-eyed young owner of Pine Street Market, handed me a white coat and something even more hideous than a shower cap, I suited up without a whimper in order to follow him into the back room where he turns hogs into artisanal sausages. We had just met: him behind the counter; me in front, eyeing the samples fanned out on a carving board in the small store he operates with the help of his wife and a part-time worker named Jose, who is a whiz with the knife.
Waffle House is as Atlanta as Coca-Cola, CNN, or Delta, only more demure. You won't turn on your television to see the king of all-night diners assaulting you with multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns, and you won't get a jingle stuck in your head, because there isn't one. Waffle House never needed one. Waffle by waffle, egg by egg, the chain has quietly grown to a consistent place in the nation's top ten family-owned chains.