Waffles go way beyond breakfast. Though the standard drifts of whipped cream and syrupy fruit toppings aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, food trucks, cafés, and restaurants from Austin to Anchorage are topping the griddled goodies with everything from pizza fixings to burgers.
Indeed, versatility is one of the reasons why waffles have turned trendy, says Mackenzie Labrecque, general manager of Buttermilk Fine Waffles in Calgary, Canada. The eatery offers a waffle Rueben, among other unexpected combos, both sweet and savory. “A waffle is just a pancake with more courtesy—it holds everything,” Labrecque says, referring to the signature divots created by the waffle iron. “The only thing that inhibits what you put on a waffle is your imagination.”
Not only is this new breed of waffle-preneurs switching up what goes on top of their treats, they’re mixing batters with all different flours and flavor profiles. Cheese plays a big role: baked into the mix, sprinkled on top, or pressed between two waffles. At Waffle Champion in Oklahoma City, bestsellers such as grilled waffle pizza and pulled pork with Gorgonzola-tinged slaw rolled gyro-style in—you guessed it—a waffle, helped propel the business from a food truck to a brick-and-mortar establishment. Director of operations Derek Forari thinks nostalgia triggered the demand. “People have a childhood connection with waffles,” he says. “It’s a fun, different way to do sandwiches.”
Integrating curds into the batter for a classic buttermilk waffle is a no-brainer—this standard preparation is mild enough to yield the spotlight to all kinds of cheese. Leonard Chan, co-founder of The Iron Press, with two locations in Orange County, Calif., folds Tillamook cheddar into his breakfast waffle, serving it with sausage and eggs. “I like cheese with almost everything,” he says. Putting cheese in the waffles, Chan explains, ensures a taste in every bite (score!). At Buttermilk Fine Waffles in Calgary, the curds stay on top. Lemon curd and crumbled Woolwich Dairy Chevrai goat cheese crown a buttermilk waffle—the mash-up of crisp waffle, creamy curd, and tart cheese make it the “hidden gem on our menu,” Labrecque says.
Tillamook Medium Cheddar + buttermilk waffle
Woolwich Dairy Chevrai + buttermilk waffle
Award-winning author Maria Speck offers recipes for hearty—and often gluten-free—whole-grain waffles in her latest book, Simply Ancient Grains: Fresh and Flavorful Whole Grain Recipes for Living Well (Ten Speed Press, 2015). Her Greek-German background explains her appreciation for ingredients such as rye and spelt, as well as her exposure to waffle customs of northern Europe. But Speck’s recipes are hardly traditional. In her rye waffle with parmesan and rosemary, Speck says, “the natural tanginess of the rye creates beautiful umami [notes] with the deep, nutty aroma of the cheese.” For another spin on whole-grain flavor, head southwest for fragrant, crisp cornmeal waffles enriched with creamy, amenable Monterey Jack. Spoon on some green chile sauce for added kick.
Sartori SarVecchio Parmesan + rye waffle
Vella Cheese Company Monterey Jack + cornmeal waffle
Liège Sugar Waffles
Pastry chef Mary O’Rourke and her family run Waffle Window, a thriving four-location chain in Portland, Ore. There they serve O’Rourke’s version of a yeast-leavened, Liège-style waffle, which has a fluffy, almost brioche-like interior studded with pearl sugar (a chunky variety that stays slightly crunchy when heated). Inspired by versions her sons sampled while visiting Amsterdam, O’Rourke tops hers with thick-cut pepper bacon, sliced brie, fresh basil, and homemade peach jam. “The waffle’s sweetness works really well with the mild, creamy cheese,” she says, “while the brie’s creamy texture complements the crispness.” At Sugar House Waffles food truck in Anchorage, Alaska, owner Mandy Gebauer finishes her Liège-style confections with a whipped feta-and-cream cheese topping plus a dollop of bacon-onion-balsamic jam—a happy marriage of briny, tangy, and sweet.
Président Brie + Liège sugar waffle
Vermont Creamery Goat Feta + Liège sugar waffle
Feature Photo Credit: Anastasia_Panait/Shutterstock.com