Some hot griddle action on the grid

Many towns have forged an association with a particular culinary delight, the mention of which can spark an instant linkage in the minds of the geographically or gastronomically inclined. For example, what would Philadelphia and the cheesesteak do without each other? What would Baltimore be without crab cakes, or Cincinnati without its world-renowned chili (less smelly in close quarters, certainly, but … ), or Boston without its baked beans (see Cincinnati), or Kansas City without barbecue, or New Orleans without beignets and chicory coffee, or San Francisco without its world-famous Rice-a-Roni?

Less-attractive places to visit, that’s what.

Sacramento, until now, has not had a culinary icon to call its own, nothing for visiting NBA fans to say, “Hey, here I am in Sacramento, and I’d better go get me a taste of that local delicacy while I’m here.” Now, smart-alecks may insist that a McDonald’s hamburger or Taco Bell taco perfectly represent this town’s pummeled-into-submission-by-developers soul, but at this point we should give ourselves more credit than that, right?

This utter lack of food identity has mystified me. Until now. While driving around the North Area (that vast area north of the American River, between Business 80 and Carmichael), I stumbled across the answer: waffles.

Yep, two, maybe three restaurants among the car dealers on Fulton Avenue, and a few others in North Highlands and Carmichael, each with the word “waffle” in the name.

Why waffles?

Used as a verb, to waffle means to vacillate in a wimpy and craven manner; cartoonist Garry Trudeau drew a waffle to represent former President Clinton in his strip Doonesbury. But as a noun, a waffle is something else—more formidable than a pancake, kind of like a slab whacked off a Firestone radial that’s slightly more tasty than rubber, yet it grips butter and toppings as concisely as any tire.

And now that waffles are getting the big push on the Midtown grid, now that Tom the Waffle King is cooking up his superb Knock-Off-a-Waffles at the True Love Café (2406 J St.) at midnight every Friday and Saturday, it’s time to address this rapidly burgeoning phenomenon.

When you think about it, a waffle makes for perfect gut fill. You probably won’t get mad cow disease from them; even vegetarians can eat them. They are amenable to a plethora of toppings—not just the traditional schmear of butter and maple syrup, or strawberries, or mangoes, but the kind of culinary miscegenation that Alice Waters might concoct. It’s a short hop from mangoes and/or kumquats to waffles with a chilied peanut and anchovy topping, or tamarind and persimmon chutney, or herbed duck drippings laced with sauvignon blanc grapes that were ever so gently stomped by nubile barefoot Rhinelanders.

In short, they’re perfect for mindless “next big trend” predictions. So we Sacramentans had better latch onto waffles while we can, right?