Sunday, September 23, 2018
Travel

The Dwarf House, the original Chick-fil-A, is a fun stop in Georgia

HAPEVILLE, Ga.

The first time I saw the road sign I almost swerved off Interstate 75. Our highway exits are littered with fast-food conformity — Mickey Ds, BK, T-Bell, the usual — but this was different, a magical anomaly, perhaps even a puckish trick of the light on weary eyes.

Chick-fil-A Dwarf House!!!

The !!! are my excitable emphasis, and with good reason. This deliriously named restaurant, located in a blue-collar suburb of Atlanta, sounded utterly bizarre and politically incorrect. And it also hinted at some sort of otherworldly Clucky Circus Town, a funky, forbidden land where things had gone sumptuously, crispily wrong.

Plus of all the fast-food staples, Chick-fil-A has one of the most limited, unimaginative menus. And now they were going rogue?

I had to keep driving that first time, late for a date in the ATL. But after that initial tease, whenever I took my wee daughters to a Chick-fil-A in St. Petersburg — like most parents of preteens, about 35 visits a week (don't judge, don't judge) — I would daydream about those fantastical poultry dwarves. It became not unlike the plotline in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, although a far more sober quest.

When I finally ventured up that way again, a road trip from Tampa Bay to the Smoky Mountains, I made sure to set aside proper time for investigative journalism/gorging at this imagined fast-food Valhalla.

It turns out there are a few Dwarf Houses in the Atlanta area, not to mention something called Truett's Grill — all variations on the familiar Chick-fil-A brand, which recently surpassed KFC as the nation's top chicken chain. However, born in 1946, the Hapeville Dwarf House was the very first one, a.k.a. the genesis of Chick-fil-A deliciousness.

It was my only choice.

• • •

A few miles off I-75, the Dwarf House reveals itself in a quietly dramatic way: squatty, misshapen, a four-pronged oddity that includes a diner, a fairy tale brick facade, a regular Chick-fil-A and spiraling tendrils of drive-through lanes — the whole thing open around the clock except, of course, for Sunday; we all know that buzzkill drill.

The Dwarf House's quirkiest exterior characteristics are a miniature door, presumably for the titular little people, a theme loosely tied to Snow White. And on a bench in front of the door sits the golden statue of Georgia boy and local hero Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, still alive at 93. He's a selfie magnet.

Inside, you'll find a regular Chick-fil-A walk-up counter (and typical nugget-heavy menu) with a fast-foody dining room. But around the corner is where it gets good: a long, slightly raised diner counter in front of a bustling open kitchen plus a row of comfy booths. Here the menu includes such things as the Midnight Sandwich (a ham and cheese concoction) and coconut icebox pie, the latter homemade on the premises.

The Dwarf House section looks like an ornate red Denny's. Such is the curiosity factor, and the resulting questions, that quick free tours are offered, where you'll get a hat, a copy of the original menu and fried fun facts, such as this tidbit: At this, the birthplace of Chick-fil-A, they initially did not serve much chicken. Truett Cathy wouldn't "invent" his signature chicken-breast sandwich until the '60s. That said, in 1946, when it was simply called the Dwarf Grill, you could get a "deluxe steak," lettuce included, for 30 cents.

But I didn't want the chicken-breast sandwich. Or a deluxe steak. Or nuggets drenched in puddles of that life-affirming Chick-fil-A dipping sauce. I wanted different, that's why I was here, and that's what I got from my Southern-drawling servers.

Behold, the sheer artery-clogging glory of the Hot Brown!!! The !!! again are my excitable emphasis, and with good reason. Served in a hot casserole dish, lean white meat chicken is drenched in layers of gravy, mashed potatoes, cheese, bacon. It's framed by toasted points of white bread. I think I hoovered that thing — which costs $8.75, side salad included — in two bites.

There are a dozen-plus sides available. I opted for the fried okra (pretty good . . . for okra), the toothache-rich sweet potato souffle (a crunchy sugar rush) and porky collard greens (slightly bitter, which I like). For dessert, I slammed my grinning mug into that dense coconut ice box pie, which rivaled the Hot Brown in sin and time consumed.

Oh, there are other variations on the usual menu, which here wrangles those misspelling cows to their tasty fates: the Giant Burger and the Dwarf Burger, an array of salty meats for breakfast.

There's also a gooey grilled cheese sandwich and even gooier macaroni and cheese. I'll be back for those someday. Of course, it'll be hard passing up a piping Hot Brown in a Dwarf House, a series of words I just can't write enough.

Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.

 
Comments
Reality bites: SeaWorld abandons virtual reality headsets on Kraken coaster

Reality bites: SeaWorld abandons virtual reality headsets on Kraken coaster

SeaWorld has ditched the experiment that made it the first major ride in Florida to incorporate virtual reality.Last June, the theme park announced with much fanfare a new feature that would project an undersea showdown on Kraken, incorporating VR he...
Published: 09/20/18
Updated: 09/21/18
Disney will close Epcot’s popular fireworks show IllumiNations after nearly 20 years

Disney will close Epcot’s popular fireworks show IllumiNations after nearly 20 years

After nearly 20 years, the popular Epcot fireworks show, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, will go dark next summer. The Disney Parks Blog announced this week that the award-winning complex show that incorporates fire, water and video effects will...
Published: 09/19/18
Updated: 09/21/18
Actor in Busch Gardens' Howl-O-Scream commercial projectile vomits on SheiKra and it's no act

Actor in Busch Gardens' Howl-O-Scream commercial projectile vomits on SheiKra and it's no act

One of the most popular features of Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream, the annual scarefest that opens next Friday, is that you never know when a ghoul will show up next to you on the roller coasters. Some will even be on the trams that run from the...
Published: 09/14/18
Weeklong cycling trip through Montana slightly frightening at times but totally fun

Weeklong cycling trip through Montana slightly frightening at times but totally fun

WHITEFISH, Mont. You’re 16. You’re wearing your lucky jeans, your friends are picking you up soon and four hours of Saturday night stretch out before you. You have the thought: "Anything could happen tonight!" You could find love; triump...
Published: 09/12/18
Updated: 09/14/18
Busch Gardens reveals plans for Tigris, Florida's tallest launch roller coaster

Busch Gardens reveals plans for Tigris, Florida's tallest launch roller coaster

Busch Gardens will open Florida’s tallest launch coaster in spring 2019, company officials announced Wednesday. The triple-launch, tiger-themed roller coaster called Tigris will hurl riders 150 feet into the sky, turn them upside down and swirl...
Published: 09/12/18
Layover in Atlanta? Try your hand at flying a plane

Layover in Atlanta? Try your hand at flying a plane

By Mary Ann AndersonThe first time my husband landed a Boeing 737-200 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, he crashed. On the next go-round, I held my breath as Roy glided the plane over the runway fairly easily, but put it down with ...
Published: 09/21/18
In the high mountains of Sicily, a quieter and wilder world

In the high mountains of Sicily, a quieter and wilder world

GANGI, SicilyFar from the packed beaches of Sicily’s busy coastlines, there’s a quieter and wilder world in its high mountains. In more dangerous times, this was where much of Sicily’s population settled, building castles, towns, monasteries and chur...
Updated one month ago
Super cute, endangered giraffe-like baby okapi born at ZooTampa

Super cute, endangered giraffe-like baby okapi born at ZooTampa

A shy endangered animal that looks like a cross between a giraffe and zebra has given birth. ZooTampa at Lowry Park is puffed up and proud of the new parents and their part in easing the mother’s transition to a successful birth. But first, look at t...
Updated one month ago
From churches to breweries, 10 behind-the-scenes tours you can take in Tampa Bay

From churches to breweries, 10 behind-the-scenes tours you can take in Tampa Bay

A good number of these tours are free.
Updated one month ago