The night was cool, autumnal. Just after 7, it was already dark and drizzling, fallen leaves whipping around in the sudden gusts of wind. It was October in everything.
“Did you look at the menu at all?” I asked Ryan on our way to John Bahas’ Waterloo Restaurant. My mind already scanning the token comfort food items that I anticipated ordering. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from over a year of eating and writing, it’s to come prepared, lest I spend an hour or more trying to decide between dishes.
“Alright, it’s coming up on your left,” Ryan said peering out into the rainy darkness in between glances at Google maps.
“I think that’s it right there?”
“Oh, the place with the giant ‘W,’ no way…” Ryan trailed off sarcastically.
The bright blue W of the Waterloo illuminated the parking lot, making it feel much later than it actually was. With the combination of the rain, the darkness coming on exponentially earlier each night, and the slight chill, it could have been 2 a.m. and I would have believed it.
We walked through the entryway gift shop displaying greeting cards with cats and dogs for all occasions and glass cases of fashion jewelry.
“Just the two of you?” the hostess asked from behind the counter, “Would you like a booth or a table?”
“A booth would be great” I answered after exchanging agreeing eyebrow raises with Ryan.
The hostess led us to a large booth in the back. Ryan and I each stretched out on the deep red vinyl, surveying the seemingly art deco inspired overhead lamp, the faux stone counter tops extended along the back wall between us and the window facing the parking lot.
“I feel like I’m in an indie movie” Ryan remarked and I didn’t disagree. The atmosphere felt charged. As we each sipped from monstrous glasses of diet coke, I couldn’t help feeling like this was the kind of place for a “meeting,” the kind of place where important information is exchanged. It’s hard to put my finger on why, exactly.
Perhaps it was the general diner style atmosphere, perhaps it was the night itself. Though, if I had to guess, it has to do with the fact that there is history here. Like so many Akron gems, The Waterloo has been around for over fifty years, and you can see that in its timelessness.
“I feel like we can’t not get sauerkraut balls here,” I said. Making more of a demand than a statement. Lucky for me, Ryan is typically obliging of my appetizer choices.
“Let’s do it.”
Though I had come in that night almost certain I would be ordering breakfast for dinner (another perk of the Waterloo is that they serve breakfast all day) by the time we sat down, I was starting to change my mind.
“Are you guys ready to order?”
“…yeeeeah…” I slowed, almost certain in my dinner choice but still wondering if a game time decision would spring out of me, “We’re going to get an order of sauerkraut balls, and then I’m going to have…the…herb chicken pasta”
Ryan looked across the table approvingly. He had suggested I get the herb chicken over the chicken parmesan. He ordered the Italiano: Cincinnati chili topped with parmesan, mozzarella, and peperoni.
“Sweet Jesus, did you see that waffle!? Maybe we should have gotten breakfast. That thing was Leslie Knope level, a mountain of whipped cream!” Ryan’s eyes widened as he described the waffle that had passed behind me.
When the sauerkraut balls arrived, I knew I had made the right decision. Those tiny golden nuggets are always a welcome site. My first bite was sheer ecstasy. The fried coating just crispy enough, but easily giving way to collapse once I bit in. The inside was a complete amalgamation. I didn’t know where sauerkraut ended and meat began or what it was that held them together so damn well, but I didn’t even care. They were densely packet, so salty that they melted in your mouth. Served with a side of cocktail sauce, they are arguably some of the best sauerkraut balls I’ve had. (Full disclosure: while writing this description, I went to the fridge and ate one of the cold leftover balls; they’re still amazing cold).
I could smell my dinner the second it came within sight of our table. Herbed and breaded chicken atop a mass of angel hair pasta and drenched in a mushroom sauce, it took everything I had not to tear into that meal the second it was placed in front of me. Once I did, I realized it tasted just as good as it smelled. The fried chicken was exactly the kind of comfort food I wanted, familiar but with an edge thanks to the demi sauce. The mushrooms were earthy and hearty and the sauce itself was absolutely decadent. Rich, thick, warm and savory, the demi sauce absolutely made the dish.
The next time I visit the Waterloo, I’m going to try my best to order breakfast, but no guarantees I’ll be able to pass up the Herb Chicken Pasta.
John Bahas’ Waterloo Restaurant and Catering, 423 E Waterloo Rd, Sun-Thurs 7am – 11pm, Fri-Sat 7am – 1 am