217 N. Clinton St. 773-770-4894
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If doughnuts were the new cupcake, then are waffles the new doughnuts? Inspired by Belgian carts and cafes selling the country's most popular street food, waffles, the owners of West Loop bar New Line Tavern took over the space next door and opened a waffle shop. I popped in during opening week to size up the toasty offerings.
The waffles: Liege-style waffles ($2.49 each) are served in the morning, positioned to replace your bagel with spreads ($1.49) ranging from honey-walnut cream cheese to Nutella. Made with brioche-like dough, they're more dense and cakey than the Belgian-style waffles you might be used to at brunch, but it lacked that caramelized shell that makes Liege waffles so delicious. Maybe a longer turn in the waffle iron would do the trick?
The sandwiches: The Brussels-style waffles used for Wafel's menu of sandwiches proved hit or miss during opening week. On one dinner visit, it was amazingly golden and crispy, almost as if it were fried. But a few days later, the waffle used for my breakfast sandwich, The Scramble ($3.25 for half; $5.99 for whole) was less toasted and therefore less tasty. Decent scrambled eggs and melty cheddar were marred by thick pieces of slab bacon so undercooked that I could barely bite through them. I wouldn't order The Elvis (bacon with peanut butter, banana and honey, $5.99) until that's sorted out.
Portability: Some of the "fold and go" sandwiches are easier to "go" with than others. A breakfast 'wich stuffed with sliced strawberries holds together splendidly thanks to a generous smear of pastry cream ($2.29 for half; $4.39 for whole). Garlic-marinated mushrooms and arugula traveled beautifully thanks to goat cheese ($6.99) that added tang and kept the bread in place. But the fried chicken sandwich ($6.99) didn't stand a chance coming out of the bag, with half the filling slopping right out. Even when I pieced it all back together, the chicken's buttermilk breading wasn't salty or spicy enough to satisfyingly play against the maple syrup drizzle, and apple slaw that I hoped would be thin and crunchy was all too-big slices of softened apple.
The drinks: Wafel enlisted nearby Sparrow Coffee Roastery to create a custom blend, so you can order drip coffee ($1.75-$1.95) as well as basic espresso drinks such as lattes or cappuccinos ($2.85-$4.05). My favorite was the spiced mocha ($3.95 for a medium, $4.95 for large), which makes use of the addictive spiced chocolate also sold as a Liege waffle spread.
The service: Staffers enthusiastically make an effort to learn your name—a smart move, considering they'll likely see a lot of the same faces from nearby condos and the Metra station down the street. Though all orders are bagged up to-go, there's a wall of banquette seating and an oversized circle table if you'd rather stick around.
Bottom line: While I'm not ready to declare its Liege waffles the new doughnut quite yet, Wafel has a lot of potential. Though there aren't as many sandwich options as six-month-old River North wafflery Bel 50 and the Liege-style waffles aren't yet as practiced as those at Lakeview's Baladoche, I think the appetite for unique snacks in this part of town is big enough to keep the irons hot.
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