Waffles. With a name like this, expectations should be pretty clear. Likewise, it sets pretty high standards for a food that often depends on its toppings to redeem its mediocre taste and texture. America needs to be shown how exciting waffles can be, and not just as a food that is only as good as its decorations. That is precisely the mission of this brand new breakfast, brunch and lunch spot located in the south loop.
Americans tend to differentiate between waffles most often by what’s being served on them. In our ignorance, we tend to make a big hullabaloo about "Belgian" waffles and their deep pockets, making them the fancy choice of many places desiring to add waffles to their breakfast lineup. The truth is that there is no more a true Belgian waffle than there is an American barbecue sauce; because like our barbecue sauces in the US, the waffles in Belgium vary in style, taste and texture in relation to the various regions of the country they are served. Waffles chose two of these styles to focus on and adapt for their restaurant: waffles from the regions of Brussels and Liege.
The difference between the two is that Brussels styled waffles are "prepared with yeast leavened batter." They are described as "light and crispy with large pockets." These are the waffles that are most likely the authentic grandfather to what Americans understand "Belgian" waffles to be. That being said, these are much more delicate and have a lighter density; they have crisp edges and a subtle buttery flavor that permeates the entire waffle.
The Liege styled waffles, on the other hand, are billed as being "rich, dense, sweet and chewy." They are "made with pearl sugar, which caramelizes on the inside and outside of the waffle." When we tried one, we noticed immediately how accurate their description was. It had a pleasant yet not overpowering sweetness to it that reminded us of streusel topping or the delicate "melt-in-your-mouth" nature of many European cookies. Both were absolutely delicious, and easily some of the best waffles I have had the chance to eat.
Just as there are two types of waffles prepared here, there are a number of options regarding how and with what they are served. Nearly all of these draw inspiration from other meals, reflecting a very creative drive to distinguish the restaurant from other breakfast eateries. Many of the more savory options feature the Brussels style waffle, while the Liege waffles tend to star in the sweeter, more dessert like dishes. With options modeled after red velvet cake and others served with braised short ribs, it was a tough decision. After much thought and debate, I chose the chicken and waffles-inspired dish, while Celia opted for one inspired by strawberry rhubarb pie.
Like the waffles themselves, the toppings were of excellent quality. My chicken and waffles selection came with chopped bacon and chives scattered in the various pockets of the waffle, pieces of fried chicken served on top, and bit of maple syrup drizzled underneath it all to keep the rest from getting soggy. The fried chicken was cooked to perfection, the meat thoroughly cooked, yet juicy, and with a light fried shell that wasn't greasy but full of flavor.
Celia's waffle was an amazing interpretation of the strawberry rhubarb pie concept. The ingredients were very fresh and cooked perfectly. It brought me right back to childhood memories of my mother's fresh baked strawberry rhubarb pie. It was delicious and satisfying, and the Liege waffle served the role of replacing pie crust for this dish very well.
Waffles is not the perfect restaurant. The layout has a few struggles, and for being in an area with so many young families who like to walk around, there was not enough room between tables to allow for strollers without quickly making the restaurant feel congested. Our table was very wobbly and loose, showing that the fixtures aren't holding up very well, particularly for a restaurant that had been open for under a weekThe customer service was mostly good, but inconsistent in its quality due to a snippy and negligent waiter, (though Julie, the waitress who replaced him, was outstanding.) That all being said, the food was absolutely delicious.
When a restaurant builds itself around one concept so strongly the most important key to their survival is delivering on their built up expectations. The waffles at Waffles are exceptional, as well as everything they are served with. There are a lot of shortcomings that they still need to work out as a restaurant, but as long as they keep up the quality, their waffles are worth the visit. Your mamma's waffles they aren't (unless she is from Belgium, that is) but in this case that’s a good thing.