As a Pennsylvanian, Krystal was never on my radar. But when I was living in Oxford, Mississippi, my buddy Jimmy convinced me that the Southern fast-food institution was worth the hour drive to the nearest establishment. He preached on behalf of Krystal with such verve and reverence that his eyes got misty. The dude was passionate. His life-changing sermon discussed the best ways to munch your way through the T-shirt-staining chili fries and a “sackful of steamers,” the nickname for a plastic bag filled with sliders that are served inside tiny cardboard containers. So we went.
As soon as they handed me a tray entirely covered by petite burgers and fries, my fast-food expectations were never quite the same. When I moved to New Orleans, I grew accustomed to having a Krystal around all the time. There were two near my home—one on Bourbon Street and the second on Claiborne Avenue, a busy roadway that unspools across the city. This access meant I became a master of its menu, and could provide my own tearful homily.
Yet its breakfast menu started to haunt me. Every trip to the restaurant found me staring at the morning options and struggling between two thoughts. The first was that I should make it to a Krystal franchise before 11 a.m. to try its impressive breakfast menu, including eggs made-to-order. (Unheard of at a fast food joint!) The other was that the advertised images of eggs, sausage, bacon, biscuits, and grits were disturbingly perfect, almost as if they were plastic copies stolen from a child’s fake kitchen play set. I stared at the menu’s pictures, torn.
To say it was a difficult personal conflict is embarrassing, so consider me thoroughly ashamed. But one Tuesday morning at nine o’clock, I finally decided to walk from my place down Bourbon Street, crossing the entirety of the French Quarter, for a breakfast that could only be created through the collaboration of a fast food chain and the decadence of its Southern roots.
In New Orleans especially, the morning is dedicated to shameless self-indulgence —the tossing back of drinks and rich foods continues as long as one can stomach it. Perhaps it’s the oft-discussed “pace of things in the South,” or just its debilitating heat, that allows New Orleanians and their tourist ilk to demand an hours-long breakfast or brunch. Nevertheless, there are some who don’t care to sacrifice their weekend to a meal that is meant to begin the day, not end it. Fast-food breakfast was my way out of this brutal system, and Krystal would be my next early-morning feast.
I began my walk across the French Quarter to Krystal’s Bourbon Street location slowly. This journey is no small feat. At nine o’clock in the morning, the foul-smelling liquid scum that collects in the street’s various cracks and crevices during the evening’s debauchery is sprayed away by a number of brave hose-toting individuals. The stench does not immediately dissipate, and so for a few hours the entire neighborhood reeks, as if someone tipped over a music festival’s well-used porta potty. Not particularly helpful when working up an appetite.
Along the way I passed souvenir shops, strip clubs, daiquiri joints already open for the day, and confused red-faced tourists unsure of their morning plans. Perhaps they didn’t know about Krystal, because I found it completely deserted save for a couple employees washing down the counters. I’m not sure how those outside could resist the large sign that hung from the store’s neon marquee advertising BREAKFAST and WI-FI.
Krystal offers a Southern breakfast lineup that skips all those hours of waiting for a table or the unshakable drowsiness of midday drunkenness. It finds the happy medium between sizeable portions and time spent eating said portion. The options are immense and include plates of a traditional breakfast, chicken biscuits, breakfast sandwiches served on toast or a biscuit, little potato sticks, a “Sunriser” offered on the company’s steamed bun—hell, you can even get a tiny chili dog. Most important to me is the Scrambler. Krystal proclaims the Scrambler as “a powerful, portable monument to American ingenuity.” Truly, it is up there with the to-go cup, cellphone, and travel Monopoly set, as it will “Take a traditional Southern breakfast and then stack it” inside a Styrofoam bowl.
If you can’t sit to eat your breakfast of grits, eggs, sausage, and cheese, then you ought to have it layered into a fist-sized container before picking it up from a drive-through window and continuing your frantic daily grind. Grab a forkful while at a red light or while merging into traffic—up to you. That’s the working idea behind Krystal’s Scrambler, as best as I can tell. And you have options. The one described earlier is only the original. There’s also the Sausage Gravy Scrambler and the Low Carb Scrambler. The former stuffs a biscuit and gravy into the bowl, the latter—a health-conscious choice—eschews the biscuit and grits and replaces it with eggs, cheese, and “a generous layer of crispy Smithfield bacon.” This singular container means that you won’t have to give up the decadence, the lethargy, or the flavor of the South, no matter your numerous responsibilities.
I walked to the counter cautiously. I was a proud Krystal aficionado now, even if I didn’t know the breakfast menu. But I quickly panicked when asked for my order. “Uh… Let me get the Sausage Gravy Scrambler,” I said to the woman behind the register. “And orange juice.”
“That it?” she asked.
“Chicken biscuit!” I yelled with near incoherence. “A chicken biscuit, please.”
She gave me a look that imparted the immense amount of pity she had for me while handing me a carton of juice. A few minutes later, she passed me my order. I grabbed plastic utensils, a packet of honey, some salt, pepper, and ketchup and found a seat by the window. Through it, I could discern the mannequins in the window of the Hustler Club across the street. I sorted my order, placing each item gently in front of me, noting their containers and weight. As I did this, I sometimes looked up at the mannequins and then back to my food. There was some great thought to be had here. I shrugged and ripped open the honey with my teeth. Fast food has a half-life. It doesn’t have time for reflection.
I ate. First, I attacked the chicken biscuit, but not before slathering it in honey. Upon devouring a pretty decent piece of white breast, I took the lid off the Scrambler. The biscuit bobbed in a sea of gravy, which hid any suggestion that there was food below it. A fork and knife were necessary to dig in and explore the bowl’s core. After cutting through the biscuit layer, I found sausage, then perfectly scrambled eggs, and at the very bottom the second half of the biscuit. It then hit me that Krystal had put a breakfast sammy in a bowl and covered it in gravy—a monument to American ingenuity, indeed.
It is foolish to think you can eat an entire bag of fast food before walking a little over a mile in a sun so hot and humidity so thick it feels as though you’ve wrapped yourself in a wet wool blanket pulled from the pits of Hell. This chow ought to be eaten and digested in an air-conditioned room, preferably while sitting on a couch. It certainly shouldn’t be washed down with a lime seltzer. But once I got to my temperature-controlled apartment and lumpy loveseat, I dismissed my indigestion and nausea. Instead, I considered Krystal as a new haven for fast food breakfast, knowing it would call for me again soon. This time I’d see about those eggs made-to-order, grits, and the famous Smithfield bacon. Maybe they could stuff it into a bowl for me, so I could eat it while strolling home. As I mulled over my next order, I prepared a sermon for my roommate. He would return in the afternoon and would want to hear the good news.