The Waffle Wave
Forget cronuts and faddish flapjacks. Waffles have broken beyond breakfast gridlock, and their surging popularity proves that it’s hip to serve squares at any daypart.
“Waffles are a beloved American comfort food,” says Gordon Food Service Corporate Consulting Chef Gerry Ludwig, CEC.“Waffles are a prime opportunity because they’re so popular.”
In many ways, waffles are the little black dress of the menu. Dress them up or down. Go healthy with whole-grain batters and fresh fruit toppings. Or go healthier and serve sugar-free/gluten-free “skinny waffles.”
However you roll out waffles, follow basic item-development principles.
“Make sure it fits with the theme and brand of your restaurant,” Ludwig advises. “Build your recipe development around ingredients you have in-house. If one of your specialties is pulled pork, use that for a waffle special. Be consistent with your menu to avoid expanding inventory and increasing food costs.”
So be creative. The waffle’s culinary heritage may hail from the land of the Walloons, but it’s now as American as apple pie and as global as garammasala—both of which have found their way into waffles. Create signature batters and go seasonal—e.g., caramelapple in fall and gingerbread waffles in winter. Use a variety of flours, grains, and seeds—e.g., whole wheat, rye, buckwheat, rice, grits, and quinoa.
Offer housemade, infused syrups or fruit compotes. Skip syrup and dust waffles with spices and flavored sugars. Or serve with liquefied peanut butter and jelly, Nutella, gravy, flavored cream cheese, or cheese sauce. Stud those pockets with fresh berries, chocolate chips, roasted nuts, or crumbled, smoky bacon.
Just remember to preserve waffles’ distinctive mouthfeel, so don’t overload them; serve syrup on the side.
“Part of the enjoyment of waffles comes from the crispiness.” Ludwig says.
Mintel market research reported in 2014 that breakfast menus were growth areas on fast-food and casual-dining menus.
Two major chains seized the opportunity by introducing waffle-based limited-time offers (LTOs).
Taco Bell launched a waffle taco stuffed with eggs, sausage, or bacon as a way to gain traction in the breakfast daypart. And White Castle introduced three waffle breakfast sandwiches—cheese, bacon, and egg; cheese, sausage, and egg; and one with a fried-chicken patty—all prepared with waffles actually imported from Belgium.
The popularity of Belgian waffles with strawberries and whipped cream endures on breakfast and dessert menus. Newly emerging is the Liege waffle,topped with coarse Belgian pearl sugar.
IHOP last year menued a belly bomb with its all-day Very Blueberry Cheesecake and Bac ‘n’ Cheddar Waffullicious Waffle LTOs. Chicago-based Waffles menus a chocolate chip waffle topped with whipped cream infused with orange syrup and cocoa powder.
The ultimate savory waffle star is chicken and waffles. This Southern staple has starred on L.A. menus for years and is fast coming to menus everywhere.
“A signature version of savory chicken and waffles can be a great opportunity on a variety of menus,” Ludwig advises.
The Pullman Kitchen in New York, for example, menus a Chicken and Waffle entrée featuring buttermilk fried chicken on a cornbread waffle, with pepper Jack cheese and Vermont maple syrup. But why stop at chicken? Examples:
- Earl’s Eggo, a toasted waffle with slabs of cheddar, cured bacon, foie gras, and sweet, syrupy sauce —Earl’s Beer & Cheese, New York.
- Braised short-rib and cheddar Belgian waffle with short-rib gravy—Waffles, Chicago.
- Our Pork Schnitzel Walnut Waffle, pictured above, features a savory walnut waffle topped with a juicy, breaded pork loin, sweet maple bacon glaze and creamy red cabbage slaw.
Waffles are ideal carriers for open-faced sandwiches, fold-over handheld sandwiches, and burgers/sliders. Examples:
- Roasted Mushroom and Goat-Cheese Waffle with fresh basil, arugula, and balsamic reduction—Bruxië Gourmet
- Waffle Sandwiches, multiple California locations.
- Smoked salmon, lemon-dill-caper cream cheese, spinach, red onion—Waffle & Wolf, Brooklyn.
Waffle flights. Mini red velvet, green tea, Mexican chocolate, and Liege waffle with blackberries —Waffles, Chicago.
Chili and cheese waffle. Beef and bean chili topped with melted Mexican Chihuahua cheese —Bru’s Wiffle, Santa Monica.
Pizza waffles. Topped with tomato sauce, pepperoni, cheese, mushrooms, and onions —Bru’s Wiffle.
The bottom line? Waffles add innovation, variety, and differentiation to menus.
“If you’ve never served a waffle, you’ll spend a pretty penny on a good-quality waffle iron,” Ludwig says.“However, you’re selling cooked batter with a lot of air. There’s great margin potential, so the payback is huge.”