Though waffle breakfast sandwiches and chicken and waffles have been all the rave this past year, we’re now moving into the next wave of waffle innovation. The familiar breakfast bread is showing up as an innovative carrier for kids’ pizzas and savory non-morning sandwiches on some restaurant menus, and being cast as a coating or seasoning “flavor” on others. And beyond restaurants, some operators are transforming traditional waffle desserts with out-of-the-box elements that restaurants should look to for inspiration.
Why waffles and why now? Waffles are inexpensive and easy to work with. Consumer preference for specialty breads like waffles for items like sandwiches is on the upswing, according to Technomic’s Sandwich Consumer Trend Report. And approaching cold weather always brings with it an influx of comfort food favorites.
Here are some ways the iconic waffle is being spun in playful and off-the-wall styles.
Red Robin: The Bee’s Knees
Another twist on chicken and waffles, the limited-time sandwich has a tempura-battered fried chicken breast topped with Angry Orchard honey, jalapeno relish, citrus-marinated tomatoes, onions and shredded romaine between two Belgian waffles. The waffle follows Red Robin’s other innovative burger carrier releases of 2016, including lettuce wedges and crispy ramen.
IHOP: Cheesy Cheese Pizza
The limited-time kids pizza features a waffle-cooked Criss-Croissant crust topped with marinara, Monterey Jack and cheddar. The hybrid dinner item is slated to appeal to the 55% of Gen Zers who enjoy eating breakfast foods like waffles at dinner, according to Technomic’s Breakfast Consumer Trend Report.
Tony Roma’s: Not Your Mama’s Fried Chicken
Recently introduced at the remodeled flagship Orlando, Fla., location, the dish features chicken marinated in maple syrup and crusted with a waffle-like coating. It’s served with chicken gravy, herb mashed potatoes and seared garlic green beans.
The Rabbit Hole: Carpe Diem
Making a splash at this year’s Minnesota State Fair was this Japanese taiyaki (fish-shaped) buttermilk-miso waffle cone filled with balsamic-roasted strawberry compote and topped with vanilla ice cream, graham cracker crumble and a strawberry. The miso and balsamic vinegar—both fermented ingredients—lend dual depths of pungent flavor to an otherwise traditional sweet dessert. It was available at the Midtown Global Market booth at the International Bazaar flea market near Minneapolis.