All Lent Meeting With Lunch Underground

March 21st, 2019

With apologies to my colleague, Jennifer Biggs, I only write about food a couple of times a year. One of those times is Lent, the time of Waffle Shop.

Jennifer would agree that food is spiritual. 

As published in The Daily Memphian

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Take the people of Memphis, all kinds, and mix generously in a church basement for about 100 years. Add funky local favorites to taste, season with thoughtful observation from far and near, and garnish with friendships lifelong and brand-new. Serve once a year for 40 days. 

So we now find ourselves in Lent, that time each year when the Christian Church is officially reminded of Christ’s fasting in the wilderness … and Memphis is ironically reminded that homemade mayonnaise makes a good topping for pretty much everything but dessert and waffles.

For the 40 days of Lent, church altars are stripped of flowers and color and folks turn inward to reflect, sacrificing indulgences in order to gather their thoughts … and Memphis again gathers in a Downtown basement over the aforementioned mayonnaise atop colorful aspic and shrimp mousse and chicken salad, and waffles beneath sticky syrup or impossibly rich chicken hash.

We consider the mysteries of faith … and we sit together, elbow to elbow with our city, and ask the questions only asked during Lent for almost a century now, only at the Calvary Waffle Shop:

Is this supposed to wiggle?

What is fish pudding?

Is that bourbon or sherry?

Do they have Schaum Torte today?

I know I’m supposed to know, but who is that over there?

Is Rabbi Greenstein speaking this week or next? 

Answers are provided as we collectively break bread in the basement – as we listen to gifted speakers from across the land and across faiths in the nave of Calvary Episcopal Church above – as we come together to talk, laugh, eat, and share during an all Lent meeting with lunch underground.

Here are several recipes I’ve shared with readers before so that Lent in Memphis may be better understood.


We’ll start here. For those of you who don’t understand the idea of tomato aspic, understand this. You’re living in the South and at some important point in that life ... somebody just died, your spouse’s grandmother is serving lunch, I’m serving you lunch, your boss invited you to the club, somebody else just died ... it’s going to be wiggling right in front of you and “what the hell is that” isn’t going to work. So try the aspic at the Waffle Shop, or try this and make your own, and if you don’t like it, don’t go the house after the funeral.

1½ C. V8 mixed with 1½ C. of Bloody Mary mix

2 pkgs. Knox gelatin

In a small saucepan combine ½ of the mixture with gelatin and stir until smooth. Heat to a gentle boil. Remove from stove and mix thoroughly with the other ½. Stir. Pour into a pan, cover, and put in fridge at least two hours.


Now we’ll move to a higher level of spiritual awareness – fish pudding.

3 lbs. mild white fish

1 T. chopped parsley

1 T. grated onion

3 eggs

½ c. cracker crumbs

Juice of 1 lemon

1 c. milk

1 stick butter (melted) 

Salt and pepper to taste    

Sherry to taste

Fish should be baked or grilled first, seasoned to taste, boned and shredded. Put fish in a bowl, add eggs and beat in well. Add milk and ½ the butter and cracker crumbs, and the parsley, onion, lemon juice, salt and pepper and sherry. Put in a baking dish and top with remaining cracker crumbs and butter. If it looks dry, add more milk. Set in a pan of hot water and bake at 325º for 50 minutes. Serves 8-10.

Options: Make some aspic while you wait, or drink the rest of the sherry, or both. 

Hint: You’re going to need some tartar sauce. 


Chicken hash may well have been the original manna, because I guarantee you a couple of ladles of this over a waffle will sustain you in the wilderness.

1 cup chicken fat

1 cup flour

Approximately 2 quarts chicken broth

Approximately 2 quarts cooked and chopped dark chicken meat

Spice Islands poultry seasoning, to taste (about ¼ of the bottle)

½ cup grated onion (more wouldn’t hurt)

Lawry’s seasoning salt, to taste (lay it on)

White pepper, to taste (again, lay it on)

Kitchen Bouquet, to color (that would be dark brown)

Sift flour into fat over medium heat. Stir vigorously with wire whisk until very smooth. Allow to cook, constantly stirring, for 3 minutes. Turn off heat and add chicken broth, stirring. Return to heat and cook, continuing to stir, until mixture boils and thickens. Add seasonings to taste. Thin with additional broth if necessary. Add chicken meat. Serves 8.

The Waffle Shop and Preaching Series at Calvary Episcopal Church runs through April 12, Tuesdays through Fridays for lunch and Wednesday evenings. Strike while the iron is hot.

I’m a Memphian, and any reasonable definition of that term involves The Waffle Shop during Lent.

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