To the uninitiated, the term sodbuster might sound more like a landscaping tool than a breakfast dish. At Aretha Frankensteins, kitchen manager Max Weathers said a single sniff of the hearty Sodbuster Omelet is usually enough to win people over.
"Maybe it's the bacon that you can smell from Frazier Avenue," Weathers said, laughing. "The smell of the onions and bacon and butter is just so intense. You want to just get at it.
"The way it smells is one of my favorite things. The butter and bacon? That sells it for me."
The North Chattanooga restaurant's breakfast-'til-midnight menu has remained largely unchanged since the doors opened in 2003. The Sodbuster has been available since day one, Weathers said.
Weathers begins the Sodbuster by grilling two to three strips of chopped Applewood smoked bacon and a "hefty pinch" of yellow onions.
Next, he briskly whisks three large eggs, aerating them to increase their fluffiness before pouring them into a pan lined with canola oil set at medium heat.
"Burnt eggs are never any good, so the secret to a good omelet is low heat and letting it cook up slowly and surely," Weathers said. "It'll eventually get there."
As the egg batter solidifies, Weathers completes the Sodbuster's stick-to-your-ribs stuffing by adding a generous handful of Aretha's signature grilled buttery russet potatoes to the grill.
When the eggs have set, Weathers turns off the stove and allows residual heat to complete the cooking process.
After plating the omelet, he tops it with a bed of shredded cheddar cheese before transferring the grilled medley and folding it. A brief trip to the microwave ensures the interior is well melted before it reaches the diner.
Weathers began working at Aretha's three years ago, rising to his current position about a year later.
With a menu featuring 10 styles of omelets, all of which are popular, Weathers has acquired an instinct for working with eggs, a notoriously finicky ingredient.
ABOUT THE DISH
- What: The Sodbuster Omelet.
- Includes: Omelet and choice of biscuit or toast and fried potatoes or grits.
- Price: $7.50.
ABOUT THE RESTAURANT
- Where: 518 Tremont St.
- Website: www.arethas.com.
- Hours: 7 a.m.-midnight daily.
- Phone: 265-7685.
Such was not always the case, though.
"The first time I cooked the Sodbuster, I screwed up the omelet beyond all recognition because eggs are a hard thing to learn to work with," he said. "It's a learning experience. Once you do about 800 of them, you get the hang of it."
Before taking up his position at Aretha's, Weathers worked stints at as a butcher at Greenlife Grocery, pantry chef at Bluewater Grille and dough tosser at local pizzerias.
Besides setting his mouth to watering, Weathers said the Sodbuster's aroma reminds him of his first cooking tutor.
"My grandmother is a very Southern woman, and she always cooked with bacon grease growing up. That smell reminds me of her," he said. "Maybe that's what it is about cooking here, it reminds me of my grandmother."
Although the Sodbuster is his favorite dish to cook, Weathers said he's a fan of nearly every item at Aretha's.
What the menu lacks in gourmet finesse, it makes up for in decadence, Weathers said.
"This food is simple - it's not hard to cook by any stretch of the imagination - but the truth is, it's all so good," he said. "That's honestly probably because it's so bad for you.
"I think it's a general rule of thumb that the worse it is for you, the better it tastes."