Waffles for days
The Waffle Experience
Sacramento, CA 95834
A whole menu of waffles—sounds heavenly, no? But hold your forks—these aren’t your mom’s buttermilk beauties full of syrup. They’re traditional Belgian liège waffles, which are closer to bread than pastry.
The Waffle Experience opened a few months ago in Natomas in an unassuming strip mall, providing an improvement on the usual fare in that area.
The story behind it is unique: Three former Marines joined forces to bring a little-known culinary treat to Sacramento. Chef Michael Donoho had the inspiration, having worked in France and alongside culinary greats such as “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto and Emeril Lagasse. Former corpsman Jeffery Belaski serves as general manager, and Dominic Dolar contributes coffee knowledge.
The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch only, with a single menu available all day with choices that include breakfast creations and sweets, as well as dishes that are labeled “Two Hands Required”—i.e., waffle sandwiches.
The common factor for almost all choices is a liège waffle. A denser, chewier version than its American counterpart, the dish originally hails from eastern Belgium, where it’s enjoyed as street food. Liège waffles are also yeasted, which makes them more like bread—hence Donoho’s use of them in sandwiches and salads. He also cleverly spikes some with fresh herbs or citrus zest to add another layer of flavor to each dish.
In fact, the choices are all packed with flavor. The “Eggcellent” consists of applewood bacon, fontina, egg, arugula, and sun-dried tomato aioli sandwiched between fennel seed waffles. It’s messy, but worth the extra napkins.
“Cheeses Gone Wild” is a grilled cheese for grown-ups, with four kinds of cheese, bacon, kale, fennel confit and caramelized leek waffles. The rich cheeses are well balanced by the greens and slightly acidic confit.
The “Strawberry Fields” entree makes for a less expected use of waffles. While it features bacon yet again, you can’t argue with a good pairing. Organic strawberries, blue cheese, and strawberry cream cheese are layered with arugula and bacon-studded waffles for a hearty salad. A balsamic glaze adds just the right note of sweet to the tangy cheese.
Other salads on the menu previously featured waffle croutons, but no longer do. It’s a shame, since part of the fun is trying the waffles in new ways.
On one visit, we tried a sweet waffle topped with silky lemon curd and fresh berries under a cloud of real whipped cream. While the zesty sauce paired beautifully with the fruit, the waffle just wasn’t the star.
And here’s the rub: The ideas are great, the flavors well balanced, but the waffles are sort of tough. In some cases, this works to an advantage, as when a grass-fed beef burger is paired with the leek waffles and garlic aioli. They stand up well to the juicy meat and tomatoes.
At other times, as with the berry-topped waffles, they are a bit overworked. Liège waffles are supposed to be crusty and dense, but these often seemed heavier than ideal. The portions are modest, but you won’t leave hungry. Those waffles stick with you.
Let’s hope they’re still working out the kinks, because in many other ways, the Waffle Experience is worth a trip. The chefs here wave all the local, organic, farm-to-fork flags and offer high-quality ingredients. The roomy patio is great for a sunny lunch and the “Wee Waffles” for kids are nicely varied.
The chances are good, as they had trouble keeping up with orders when they first opened but have learned to manage the traffic better now. The staff is friendly and supremely helpful. If it can better educate customers on the unique waffles and make them more palatable, everyone will want a waffle experience.