Our food reporter has been giving that question some thought this month. This week's Breakfast Club member focuses on just one thing.
With a name like Waffles, you would expect to find the ridged, deep-pocketed breakfast items on the menu, but in the South Loop restaurant that carries the name proudly, they are trying to elevate the humble waffle, as well as some other morning meals.
"We wanted to have higher-end cooking techniques, different kinds of omelets. Do a French omelet as opposed to a traditional omelet. We also wanted to create a menu big enough where people could have breakfast or lunch and then just keep with the basics and do it well," said Waffles owner Alex Hernandez.
The simplest way to begin is with the liege waffle: a rich, dense, sweet batter embedded with pearl sugar crystals that caramelize on the inside and outside.
"We didn't want to do anything overpowering. We know a lot of times breakfast can sort of look like dessert and taste like dessert. We wanted to have the flavors there but not it being overbearing," Hernandez said.
In their green tea waffle, a bit of lemon-ginger chantilly cream gives it some much-needed citrus, while ground pistachios add crunch; on the savory side of the menu, the albondigas waffles feature ground meatballs with mint and melted chihuahua cheese.
"The cheese flavors are very subtle. They're not something like a breadstick where you break open and see a lot of cheese. It's more of a subtle taste," Hernandez said.
The waffle benedict begins with the standard liege, then gets its richness from slow-roasted pork shoulder, poached eggs and Hollandaise. There's even a red velvet flavor capitalizing, perhaps, on the fading cupcake trend. Either way, Hernandez says the waffle has potential, due to its textural possibilities.
"The waffle iron is hotter, and it caramelizes the batter whereas a pancake, you wouldn't get that heat. I think they like the crunch to a waffle and I think it's something people haven't built on yet," said Hernandez.
Now, I was always one of those people who thought that waffles had to be served with something sweet, or at least with fruit, but here at Waffles, they're proving that you can go sweet or savory. While they are closed Christmas day, they'll fire things up first thing Monday morning.
1400 S Michigan Ave.