What I want to know is: Who the hell's Burt?
More importantly: Why did the Waffle House name its signature (so to speak) chili after him? Much like Doug Heffernan -- the character played by Kevin James on The King of Queens who, on a recent episode, went ballistic after his best friend Deacon got a sandwich named after him -- I too aspire nary higher than to have a food offering named for me. Sushi roll, pub-style sandwich, an alcoholic drink -- doesn't matter. Just make it good. Immortalize me (this means you, Cuisine Malaya). God knows it's easier than writing a novel.
Oh ... back to Burt: Legend has it that Burt was not named, as the Waffle House claims, for one of its short-order cooks. My sources tell me it was named for a stockboy. No shit. As if to prove my theory, the Web site features a cartoon picture of "Burt," and says "if you're lucky" Burt might even warm up a bowl of his finest for you live and in-person. I think you're about as likely to meet Ray Kroc at a McDonald's. (This joke funnier if you're aware the founder of the burger chain is long-deceased.)
Anywho, all this got me thinking. What are the All-Time Top 10 foods named after folks? And do I have another Table Dancing due already? (Columnist's note to editors: just kidding!) Herewith, my candidates:
• Oysters Rockefeller -- Named for the Rockefeller family (by the chef son of Antoine Alciatore Jules at a New Orleans restaurant named Antoine's). The original recipe remains a family secret, but it does not include spinach, as is often seen today.
• Baby Ruth candy bar -- More than likely named for the Sultan of Swat himself, Babe Ruth. The Curtiss Candy Co. continues to insist the bar was named after Grover Cleveland's daughter, Ruth Cleveland, even though she died nine years before the bar was released. Ruth, at the time, was the biggest celebrity in America. Burt actually exists. Yeahokright.
• Beef Wellington -- Named for Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington and British hero of the Battle of Waterloo. The concoction was devised by Wellesley's personal chef. And I thought the only folks with personal chefs were NBA players, rock stars and Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner. (Editor's note to columnist: gosh, I just couldn't help adding my insane former boss to the list!)
• Salisbury steak -- Named for Dr. James H. Salisbury (1823--1905), early "health food" advocate -- "health food," because Salisbury believed vegetables and starches were "poisonous."
• Kaiser rolls -- First made by a Viennese baker around 1500 for Emperor Frederick V, the rolls originally boasted Freddie's mug on the top. This is something, incidentally, Burt's Chili cannot boast.
• Earl Grey tea -- Named after Charles Grey, British Prime Minister from 1830--1834.
• Reuben sandwich -- Two stories here: either named for Arnold Reuben, a New York restaurateur circa 1914, or by Reuben Kolakofsky, who claimed to invent the sandwich somewhere around 1925 for his poker buddies at his Omaha, NE, grocery store.
• Shirley Temple -- The Designated Driver special: the combination of club soda, grenadine and a maraschino cherry was invented in the late 1930s at Chasen's restaurant for the child star. Drew Barrymore sez: puss.
• Granny Smith apple -- Named for Mrs. Maria Anne Smith of New South Wales, Australia, who's said to have found a specimen in her back yard circa 1870.
• Sandwich -- Not invented by, but rather named for, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718--1792). The Earl frequently called for the original fast food while entertaining friends and associates.
THIS IS NOT A FETCHER (it just looks suspiciously like one): I'm requesting an assist from you, the readers. In two weeks, I'm going to attempt to catalog Charlotte's best low-price eateries -- for our purposes, places that serve primarily $10 and under entrees but that stand with the best Charlotte has to offer. To that end, I'd love your suggestions. When providing your list, please give a brief sentence or two that backs up your argument. Stand-alone restaurants are best, but we'll also consider some chain eateries, provided you make a strong enough argument for their inclusion. Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org -- also, please let us know whether you mind if your message is used in print. Thanks in advance for your help.
Timothy C. Davis is a correspondent for Gravy, the official newsletter of the Southern Foodways Alliance. His food writing has appeared in Gastronomica, Saveur, the Christian Science Monitor and the food Web site www.egullet.com, among other publications. Special thanks to www.answers.com and egullet for their help in the writing of this column.