February 23rd, 2012
The Calvary Waffle Shop is open. Praise be.
As published in The Daily News, February 24, 2012, and in The Memphis News, February 25-March 2, 2012
“You might just be a copywriter,” Brick Muller said, staring down at the piece of paper I’d just handed him. On it was an ad idea I’d just pounded out on the 1948 Royal typewriter he was paying me to use as a copywriter. The fact that this was his first recognition that I might be one was gratifying since I’d already been there for nine months.
The headline on that ad was “God’s Sausage.”
Brick owned a Memphis ad agency and was desperately trying to get the attention of Southern Belle, a Mississippi meat packing company, rumored to be looking for something new. The idea on that piece of paper got the agency in the door for the pitch. The ad never ran – God and sausage together being a bit too spicy even for them – but it got their attention, I got Brick’s, and an iffy job turned into a career.
All because I had some terrific sausage for lunch in a church basement across the street, talked my way into the kitchen, and found out it was Southern Belle – the only sausage good enough in 1972 for the Calvary Episcopal Church Waffle Shop, a Memphis institution dating back to 1928.
W.C., Elvis, Jerry Lee, Marguerite, B.B., Al, Otis, Rufus, Justin – and the Memphis song that is a Waffle Shop salad plate. Clarence Saunders, Kemmons Wilson, Fred Smith – and the Memphis original that is Waffle Shop fish pudding. Boston cream pie that has nothing to do with Boston, or with pie for that matter, and with enough booze in there that they ought to stick a little umbrella in the whipped cream and call it a specialty drink. Wonderfully eggy and oily mayonnaise and tartar sauce, chicken hash and corn sticks, shrimp mousse and chicken salad, tomato aspic and chicken noodle soup, spaghetti and rye bread, corned beef and cabbage.
And, of course, signature waffles – pried by campaign-seasoned veterans from a battery of vintage irons – and the aforementioned sausage – not formed into patties but into small cannonballs.
Ironically, the Calvary Waffle Shop is open only during Lent, and I give up the stuff it serves 325 days a year to get to these 40.
Up in the church, famed preachers from across our city and land mount the pulpit for the Calvary Lenten Speakers Series. Down here in the basement, the comforting liturgy flows from the kitchen and its rich tradition is shared at table. Would-be kings, queens and heirs apparent to our commerce, politics and jurisprudence sit elbow-to-elbow with our hoi polloi, with our characters, legends and pretenders all in common praise of greased, salted, sugared, and floured conversation.
Up there, I once heard one of those famed preachers, John Stone Jenkins, address the question of whether or not God answers prayers. “Well of course God answers prayers,” he said, “but very often the answer is no.” Down here, today, the answer is yes. The Waffle Shop is open.
I’m a Memphian, and I’ll have the salad plate.