Story by Dave Eckert
They’ve been around since the 13th century, but they’ve never been more popular than they are right now. I’m talking about waffles. Waffles came to America from Europe with the Pilgrims, and they’ve been developing a following while adapting and changing ever since.
So, where do you find the best waffle in Kansas City? There are so many different styles, ingredients, pairings, and personal opinions that the question is impossible to answer. But I did find some very good waffles. Perhaps your favorite is on the list. If not, well, you’ve got some new places to try.
Photo courtesy of Gram & Dun
First up, the chicken and waffle has been a staple at Gram & Dun on The Country Club Plaza from the early days of the restaurant. Coming onboard in 2020, Regional Chef Thomas Pelkey embraced the dish while making a few tweaks to make it his own. “One of the things I like to do is let the chicken rest in our special brine for a little longer. A lot of chefs just dip the chicken and fry it up immediately, but I think the chicken develops extra flavor and depth by remaining in the brine awhile.”
In the end, everything –– the waffle, chicken, brine, syrup, and butter all work together to provide a dish with perfect balance and a classic combination. “It’s something familiar, something people love to eat. I mean, what’s not to love about a perfectly fried piece of chicken and a delicious, fluffy waffle?” Pelkey mused. What’s to love indeed?
Photo courtesy of Waffler Food Truck
Next up, the Waffler Food Truck. “It was always sort of a pipedream to own and operate a food truck. A mutual friend had developed the business model, and when he decided to sell in 2017, we jumped on it. Two years after taking over, in 2019, we won Best Food Truck KC via The Pitch. We knew we’d made the right decision,” Waffler’s Keenan O’Brian shared.
The Waffler is a family affair with Keenan and his mother, Mindy, splitting the work. Keenan told me the truck, named Lucy, is the third member of the business. “Mom does most of the prep while my girlfriend Rosey and I cut down chicken breasts and hand-bread with a secret combo of spiced flour, buttermilk, and dehydrated waffle crumbs,” O’Brian told me.
The Waffler serves up dozens of flavors of waffles, all Liege style, which O’Brian describes this way. “Liege waffles are made of yeasted sweet dough. They’re comparable to sourdough in the concept that it takes a lot of practice to perfect the process,” O’Brian stated.
O’Brian says he loves making and selling waffles, but it’s the personal interaction that carries the most weight. “I think the happiness we bring all ages and walks of life is the reason six years later we’re still at it!” O’Brian exclaimed.
Photo courtesy of Lula Southern Cookhouse
Lula Southern Cookhouse on Main Street just south of Truman Road approaches the chicken and waffle a little differently. Well, the waffle and the syrup anyway. “We do our house chicken, which we brine for 24 hours. Our rice waffle uses rice flour, so we could be gluten-free. It is a little grittier, which gives us a nice crispy exterior and a soft, chewy interior. Our syrup is hot chili syrup, which features cinnamon, red chili flakes, and sugar,” Chef Miles Hill shared. Hill says the dish also comes with sorghum butter, which is applied to the dish along with the hot chili syrup. So, if you’re a bit of a spice wimp like me, you should know to ask for it on the side or substitute some good ole’ maple syrup instead. Either way, you’ve got another perfect, classic combination. “You got sweetness, you got spice, you got texture. It’s the best chicken and waffles you’ll ever have,” Hill exclaimed. I had it, and he might just be right.
Photo courtesy of Waffle House
Finally, a restaurant so intertwined with waffles that they chose them for their name. I’m referring, of course, to The Waffle House. I don’t generally gravitate to chain restaurants, but my family has been going to our local Waffle House for more than 20 years. It’s a holiday tradition for breakfast before the major feasts on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a waffle or two is always on the table. I reached out to the Waffle House’s public relations department in Norcross, GA for some background, and wound up with that and some eye-popping statistics.
Njeri Boss, Waffle House’s VP of Public Relations, told me from day one, Labor Day, 1955 in Avondale Estates just outside Atlanta, waffles were the signature offering, so a natural name for the restaurant. I asked Boss what makes the Waffle House’s waffles so good? “One of the secrets is the sweet cream that’s added to our proprietary waffle mix. But it’s more than that. Our waffle recipe is a family recipe, and a closely guarded secret,” Boss shared.
From that one restaurant outside Atlanta, the Waffle House chain has grown to nearly 2,000 restaurants in 25 states. Impressive, but that’s not the eye-popping number I referred to earlier. This is. I asked Boss how many waffles those 2,000 restaurants serve. “We serve, on average, 176 waffles per day, per restaurant, which is approximately 125,396,480 waffles per year,” Boss stated.
I told you. Eye-popping, right? I might just have to pop one of those Waffle House waffles into my mouth when I finish this article.