By Charles Ferruzza
Tomorrow – Saturday, March 25 – is one of the happier food holidays: International Waffle Day.
My own history with this traditional hot breakfast pastry hasn’t been so upbeat. There have been a couple of times in my life where waffles were the bane of my existence.
First: one of my earliest jobs was working the line at a national pancake chain where my duties included keeping an eye on the grill and the electric waffle iron. I received many painful burns, but finally learned the delicate timing that both pancakes and waffles required in order to have a beautiful golden exterior, but a moist – but fully cooked – interior. It’s an art form.
Many years later, at a different breakfast restaurant chain, I was a waiter for a short period. A server’s duties at this venue not only involved serving the meals prepared in the kitchen, but squeezing oranges for orange juice, grinding coffee, making toast, and baking waffles in an unforgiving waffle iron that was either too hot or not hot enough.
I often wondered, during those hellish mornings, what Americans had done for waffles before General Electric introduced the first electric model in 1918. There certainly had to be waffles before the 20th century, right?
There were, of course. But those antique waffle makers – which date back to the 14th century – had as many problems as the newer models. They were two hinged iron plates connected to two long, wooden handles. The batter (which often included wine as an ingredient) would be baked over the hearth fire.
I’m not even going to acknowledge the ersatz creation known to most modern diners as the “Belgian waffle,” a thicker and puffier variation on the more ordinary waffle. It’s also a dish that is notorious for being served too early (unbearably chewy) or too late, where it hardens into the consistency of a cement block long before it can be slathered with butter and syrup.
But in honor of International Waffle Day, I felt a visit to the new-ish IHOP restaurant near the KU Medical Center – the 58-year-old California-based company formerly known as the International House of Pancakes (it officially became IHOP in 1976) – was in order.
I’m particularly fond of this newest IHOP venue since the oldest IHOP restaurant in town, a 50-year-old relic which still boasted the original A-frame design and the bright blue roof, on Shawnee Mission Parkway was recently transformed into a Pegah’s Family Dining operation (serving a similar menu).
The décor of the new restaurant at 3928 Rainbow Boulevard is very sleek and shiny (compared to the Jurassic-era décor of the one on Shawnee Mission Parkway) and the service is very prompt and friendly.
This new venue serves both Belgian waffles and the more traditional ones; a more recent menu updating adds fried chicken and waffles – a longtime soul food innovation that’s become very trendy over the last decade. The IHOP version of chicken and waffles may lack the authenticity of Niecie’s Restaurant on Troost, but it’s a good breakfast deal. IHOP serves heavily-breaded fried chicken tenders (with a punchy honey-mustard dressing) instead of the traditional wings, but the light and tender waffle is first-rate, smothered with a cloud of whipped butter and accompanied by a pitcher of “old fashioned” syrup. I assume it’s called that because the syrup is maple-flavored instead of the more expensive real thing.
One of the quartet of flavored syrups on the tables at IHOP is a butter pecan flavored concoction which is vastly superior to the imitation maple syrup.
And now that I’ve had my waffle, I can start searching for the right bakery or restaurant serving a fluffy chiffon cake. March 29 is National Chiffon Cake Day.