Whether topped with butter and maple syrup or chicken and gravy, waffles are a staple of good ol’ American eating—a comfort food that is as satisfying a first meal of the day as it is a last. But 10 innovative restaurants are proving that this classic dough concoction can hold its own against a bevy of unexpected ingredients, both sweet and savory. Join us as we take a cross-country tour of 10 restaurants creating some truly unique waffles—and we’ll share their tips on how you can take some chances with waffles at home, too.
Yardbird Southern Table & Bar
Miami Beach, Florida
Recipe: Cheddar Waffles with Green Tomato Chow Chow
Staying true to his Southern roots, executive chef Jeff McInnis (a season five Top Chef contestant) isn’t afraid to pile on the fromage on his Big Ol’ Cheddar Waffle at Miami Beach’s Yardbird. True to its name, he tops a crisp waffle with a generous helping of cheddar cheese, followed by a dollop of green tomato chow chow, which is then dressed (to your heart’s content) with a sweet bourbon maple syrup. “When writing the first menu we knew our house specialty was going to be chicken and waffles, so we dressed up our waffle with some of my favorite flavors,” says McInnis of the dish, which is served for lunch, brunch and dinner. “It’s just damn good soul food.”
Chef’s At-Home Tip: “Skip the waffle recipe and simply purchase a high-quality box mix. Find one low in sugar, as this is ideally a more savory waffle. Mix batter according to boxed recipe guidelines and make the chow chow as directed.”
Across Miami’s Biscayne Bay, chef E. Michael Reidt is putting his own spin on the waffle at Area 31, and looking back toward the sea for inspiration. “We treat waffles as a blank platform where almost anything can be built from,” says Reidt. “Bold flavors stand up to a heavy egg and flour batter, making them far more suited to savory courses that can be a great alternative to the breakfast sandwich.” Which explains the genesis of Reidt’s House-Smoked Shrimp and Avocado Waffle, which is finished with a smoked shrimp reduction, smoked shrimp guacamole and micro cilantro.
Chef’s At-Home Tip: “Use a waffle maker and pour a bit of batter to cover the bottom, then drop in the shrimp (smoked or fresh) with a bit a guacamole, cover the top with batter and close the lid. While the waffles are cooking, fry up a farm fresh egg and serve with a dollop of guacamole. No syrup needed.”
Waffle & Wolf
Recipe: Roasted Chicken Waffles with Avocado, Cheddar and Salsa
Proving that a waffle is really just a slice of bread in disguise, Daniel Richardson—the forwarding-thinking executive chef and co-founder of Brooklyn’s Waffle & Wolf—has been known to slap everything from Greek yogurt to feta cheese on a waffle, which he folds up taco-style for his hordes of devoted diners. He takes the taco analogy one step further for the savory #27, which features baked-in chicken, avocado, cheddar cheese and salsa. “I’ve always loved Mexican food and when I was creating the menu I really wanted something that would put a twist on the taco,” says Richardson. “This is my homage to the taco.”
Chef’s At-Home Tip: “We roast our chicken daily, but our #27 is a great way for the home cook to use leftover roasted chicken; simply dice it into small pieces. If you are making just one, leave the pit inside of the unused half of the avocado and wrap with cling wrap. This will prevent the avocado from turning brown so fast.”
Since 1996, Max Brenner has been sharing its love of all things chocolate at its more than 40 worldwide outposts, including U.S. locations in Boston, Philadelphia, Las Vegas and New York. And they’re showing the waffle some cocoa-infused love, too, with a Banana Split Waffle, topped with vanilla ice cream, caramelized Rice Krispies and, of course, milk chocolate truffle.
Recipe: Brookville Bacon Waffles
At Charlottesville, Virginia’s Brookville Restaurant, chef/co-owner Harrison Keevil is putting fun twists on a host of classic American dishes, from the hamburger to chicken and waffles. The inspiration for his Bacon Waffle, which he tops with buttermilk fried chicken, “came from the basic chicken and waffles, but I wanted to figure out how to get as much flavor into this dish as I could,” says Keevil. “So we have sweet (syrup), spicy (hot sauce), salty (bacon), bitter (arugula), fat (grated cheese) and sour (vinaigrette).” He also keeps it local by whisking Wade’s Mill flour and Timbercreek organic eggs together into a waffle batter that is then studded with Edwards Virginia bacon. The dish is drizzled with local maple syrup, topped with a red wine vinaigrette frisee salad and a snowfall of Pecorino cheese.
Chef’s At-Home Tip: “The best tip is to have a good Belgian waffle iron and to use the best possible ingredients you can (hopefully from your local farmers market).”
Las Vegas, NV
At Wicked Spoon at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, executive chef Gerald Chin has developed a secret recipe for his Belgian waffles—one where a yeast-leavened batter is left to proof overnight. Once pressed, the waffles become the foundation for a house-made Amaretto and honey whipped ricotta, which gets served up with fresh orange segments and slivered almonds. “I wanted to create an ‘adult’ version of the traditional whipped cream and strawberry waffle,” says Chin of the dish’s inspiration.
Chef’s At-Home Tip: “You can use pre-mixed waffle batter and add club soda to help lighten the batter. Instead of Amaretto, try Kahlua; and if you can’t get whipped ricotta, use whipped cream cheese with a little honey mixed in.”
The Harrison & Red Cat
New York, NY
A recent run-in with a chicken-topped waffle reignited pastry chef Colleen Grapes’—of New York City’s The Harrison and The Red Cat restaurants—interest in taking the cake in new and innovative directions. The result? A decadent Banana Ice Cream and Chocolate Chip Waffle Sandwich (topped with bourbon caramel sauce and pecans that are smoked, spiced and toasted) that is now available on the dessert menus of both Manhattan eateries.
Mitch Prensky, executive chef/owner of Philadelphia’s Supper, is going back to basics with a fine dining twist at his urban farmhouse restaurant, a celebration of American seasonal cooking. Case in point: Duck and Waffles, Prensky’s crispy confit duck leg with pecan sage waffles, served with Blue Elephant Farm cabbage and maple bourbon jus. “This dish is metaphorical for how I cook,” says Prensky. “At supper, we take a dish you love [and] make it a little bit different, but a lot better. This dish was my way of taking the classic chicken and waffles and perfecting it.”
Luma on Park
Winter Park, FL
Plain waffles just won’t cut it for chef Brandon McGlamery of Luma on Park in Winter Park, Florida. So his Buckwheat Waffles with Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraiche are served up canapé-style. “We don’t like to waste anything, so we utilize the end pieces of salmon for this bite-size dish,” says McGlamery of his innovative waffle concoction, for which he mixes a sous vide salmon with capers, red onion, homemade mayonnaise, crème fraiche, parsley, dill and tarragon to create a rillette salad. “We decided to use a savory waffle as a fun play on the traditional smoked salmon accompaniment, the buckwheat blini.”
Chef’s At-Home Tip: “If you don’t have crème fraiche at home, you can easily make your own version by taking whipped cream (or heavy cream and then whip it) and mixing it with lemon juice, herbs (parsley, dill, tarragon), capers and lemon zest. Buy some store-bought smoked salmon and pile it all on the homemade buckwheat waffle for an easy shortcut!”
Los Angeles, CA
Waffles are a labor of love at The Waffle in Los Angeles. Literally. In his ongoing attempts to redefine what waffles can be, chef Jose Sosa was inspired by his wife to create the Red Velvet Waffle, which he serves with a cream cheese frosting, for Valentine’s Day. Originally envisioned as a month-long special, a dedicated interest in the dish (which has been featured on the “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” and “America’s Best Bites”) has made it a permanent—and signature—menu staple.