Few things are more quintessential to a modern breakfast than waffles. The word itself first appeared in the English language in 1725, adapted from the Dutch word wafele, although Belgium is the country most associated with waffles today.
While modern America has been quick to adopt the traditional Belgium waffle, in Belgium itself there are over a dozen regional varieties. It is one of these varieties that Mary O’Rourke and her sons Brendan and Max Fishback have been pleasuring Portland with at the Waffle Window: The liege waffle.
Birthed From Bread & Ink
The Bread & Ink Café, owned by Mary’s husband, has been a Hawthorne neighborhood staple for over 35 years. Even prior to that however, the building itself served as a Fred Meyer grocery store. Located at the back of the kitchen was a small door, which was used to deliver groceries back in the day. Up until 2007, the door continued to remain unused, except for deliveries.
“I kept saying to myself that someday I was going to sell a food product out of that door,” Mary asserts. “I’d been thinking about sandwiches, but I didn’t want to do that. Or maybe bread, but I didn’t want to do that.”
With nearly forty years of experience working with desserts and pastries, the idea still eluded her. Then, as her two sons were in their first year of college, the idea struck.
While in Amsterdam, a couple of family members introduced them to Belgian liege waffles. They were so good, the two brothers immediately realized what the unused back door should be for.
Despite their enthusiasm, mom, who was still in the U.S., was unimpressed. “At the time, I just said ‘well I don’t really care,’ waffles weren’t what I was interested in,” she says with a chuckle.
“It took a little bit of nagging and persistence,” Brendan interjects.
“It did not!” His mom replies.
Playful family ribbing aside, it was then that the Waffle Window was born.
Let Them Eat Waffles
The Waffle Window began as a simple hallway next to a kitchen; a tiny space barely fit for a few people, let alone their cooking tools. But popularity came quickly and year-over-year growth exploded.
Today the Waffle Window takes over a good portion of the Bread & Ink kitchen. A small indoor section of the café has also been cordoned off for Waffle Window customers who do not want to eat outside.
Since opening a second location on Alberta, business couldn’t be better. “It’s getting busier all the time,” Brendan says.
Will there be a Waffle Window empire? “We’re trying to do that,” Mary replies with a wry smile.
So, what makes this concept so popular? After all, these are just waffles, aren’t they? Well, no.
Pearls of Goodness
If you haven’t heard of a liege waffle, you will today. Liege waffles are a Belgian variation that use pearl sugar as a secret weapon.
“It’s a sugar that’s super hard,” Mary explains. “It resists melting when you put it in the dough. So they wind up leaving crunchy bits in the dough and caramelize on the iron, leaving a light, crunchy caramelized outer layer with a warm, fluffy inside.”
As if that didn’t sound scrumptious enough, the attention to detail doesn’t stop at the technique. The dough itself is key to a recipe that sets their waffles apart from all others in Portland.
“The other key difference between a liege waffle and an American Belgian-style waffle, is that a liege waffle uses yeast dough instead of a batter that’s mixed with baking soda or baking powder,” Brendan says.
Since it’s more of a bread dough, the flavor and texture profiles are completely different. “It’s much closer to a brioche,” Mary says.
The Right Stuff
Beyond just knowing how to make a wonderful waffle, Mary, Brendan, and Max make a habit of using only the best ingredients they can find, even for such an inexpensive product.
“Local suppliers come to our back door,” Mary says. “We get tomatoes and lettuces. In the spring a woman brings us garlic shoots. We use Yakima Simon Sampson salmon. We have always strived to be local in everything.”
“We come from the mentality of doing everything ourselves,” Brendon adds. “I realize how much difference there is between using brown sugar or regular sugar as opposed to high fructose corn syrup, stabilizers and additives.”
The great care taken with ingredients and preparation shines through in the food. Whether you’re in the mood for sweet or savory, something sounds good.
There was no question which savory waffle I would try. The Three B’s requires only a description. A warm waffle is draped in a thick slice of melting Brie, layered across which are three thick cut pieces of pepper bacon, and then sprinkled with fragrant pieces of fresh cut basil. As if that weren’t enough, a house made peach jam provides that extra punch of sweet to take the savory to another level.
On the sweet side, my choice was equally unequivocal. The blueberry cheesecake waffle literally says all the right things. And this is one waffle that looks as good as it tastes.
Ever the faithful foundation, the waffle provides a base for house made blueberry compote, cheesecake pudding, fresh whipped cream and baked graham cracker crumble topping. Need I say more?
With two locations to serve your sweet or savory tooth, the Waffle Window has got what you need. Visit their Southeast location at 3610 SE Hawthorne Boulevard, Portland, Oregon 97214. They are open from 8:00am to 6:00pm daily, and until 9:00pm on Friday and Saturday.
Their Alberta location can be found at 2624 NE Alberta Street, Portland, Oregon, 97211. They are open daily from 8:00am to 3:00pm, until 10:00pm on Friday and Saturday, and 6:00pm on Sunday.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is an author, journalist and blogger who’s been writing professionally for over eleven years. When he isn’t writing or eating, then writing about eating, expect him to be outside enjoying the natural splendors of his home in the great Pacific Northwest.