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Travel + Culture

When Genius Strikes at a Diner


Genius comes in many forms. At the White Spot, in Charlottesville, Va., it does not come in the form of the Gusburger. While that local favorite—a cheeseburger with a fried egg on top—is a handsome sandwich, it is not touched by the singular creativity that gives us the Grills.

My Gusburger reduced to a pleasant memory, I scanned the menu for a little something else.  I barely managed to talk myself out of the boat of sausage gravy called “ONE HELL OF A MESS,” but largely because the dessert menu featured something called, rather vaguely, “GRILLS With Ice Cream.” I know what a grill is, and I rarely want to eat it. But if it’s got ice cream on it, why not?

I thought to ask the cook, George, about the Grills with ice cream, but he was busy discussing steroids in baseball. “These guys, they look normal and then all of a sudden they’re big as animals. That’s not natural,” I heard him say. Not wanting to take him too long away from his conversation, I went into the deal blindly.

 …and then I grabbed my friend Carrie’s arm and said, “Oh my God!  Oh my God!  Look what he’s doing!” For George was reaching into a box of Krispy Kreme donuts, brushing them with grease, and putting them on the griddle. Then he set one of those paper cups of ice cream, the ones that come with cardboard tops and little wooden paddles, on the fryer, preparing for the crowning of the Grills.

To be sure, just the perversity was worth a lot. But that aside, they were awesome. The heat caramelized the glaze, giving the donuts crackling, bruléed exteriors to go with the squishy, chewy Krispy Kreme goodness inside. The ice-cream-truck ice cream was just gilding the lily.

Steroid controversy be damned, I had to ask George if the Grills were his creation. He pointed a thick finger at his head of curiously shoepolish-black hair. “Everything is me.” I waited for some wisdom, but he was tightlipped, saying only that customers come back after decades away to order them. Finally, after some prodding about how they came to be, he said, “I don’t like anything cold. So you put it on a grill.  Get it hot.” Right. Yes, of course.

Later, I found that local historians might disagree with George’s claim of inventing the Grills. But my respect for the man has not lessened, not since I remembered my Emerson: “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius.”