by Larry Dunn, July 18, 2020
Until recently, we’ve never been particularly avid fans of waffles. Sure, we had our moments in the late 60s at the old Star Waffle Shop on Cass Avenue in Detroit, only a couple of blocks from our apartment, or the Apartfug, as we called it (fodder for its own post at some point). We’d wander in there in the middle of the night, they were open 24/7/365, all toked up on weed or flying high on LSD, and we’d order the namesake waffle, with a scoop of ice cream, and either maple syrup or hot fudge. A tantalizing sensation when your taste buds are in a heightened sate.
My mother made waffles several times a year when we were growing up, and they we’re tasty enough. But Arlene and I never invested in a waffle iron over all these years; waffles just didn’t seem worth the trouble, when we could more easily make pancakes, if we were in that sort of mood for breakfast or brunch. And we have a great, and easy to make, whole wheat (or multi-grain) pancake recipe. Arlene has regularly ordered “chicken & waffles” in restaurants over the years. But if those waffles are ever any good, it’s a bonus. For her, it’s always about the fried chicken.
Our waffle consciousness changed last fall during a brief R&R side trip to the Catskills when we were in NYC for some music events. We’d first been in the region the prior summer, when we met our Florida family there for a week’s vacation. We were charmed by the area, and shocked that it could seem so remote, only two hours from NYC. On the summer visit we’d tried to grab a meal at Phoenicia Diner, which all the people and all the guides say is a must, only to find it mobbed every time we drove by. But on a late Monday morning in October, we had no trouble getting seated immediately. “Chicken and Waffles” on the menu caught my eye, thinking I’d recommend it to Arlene. But I decided to order for myself, when I learned the waffles were made with cornmeal. That seemed worth trying, and my hunch paid off. Crispy, even, crunchy, exterior, but still light and fluffy inside, and the cornmeal added aroma and a flavor punch far beyond what any standard whitebread waffles can deliver. I was hooked, and left there determined to find or devise a recipe to make them at home.
I spent the rest of the fall and early winter researching recipes . . . oh, yes, that, and having major surgery on my cervical spine and then a long slow recovery. I devised a recipe and aimed to try it during our annual winter sojourn to visit our Florida family in Sarasota. They have the waffle iron; no sense in our buying one until we knew we had a winning recipe. We made them for the whole crowd one Sunday in February, with sliced fresh local strawberries and maple syrup. They were a big hit.
A new waffle iron was waiting for us when we returned home to Oberlin and we’ve been making cornmeal waffles every few weeks ever since. They are especially welcome at this time of year when we have so much local fresh fruit in Ohio, as we go through a sequence of strawberries, cherries, blueberries, apricots (if we’re lucky), peaches, plums, and apples. Each waffle batch leaves us with eight or ten squares we can put in the freezer, and they taste almost as good warmed up in the toaster as they do fresh off the griddle. As soon as the freezer supply is gone, we make some more. If you’d like a PDF of the recipe, press the “Download” button below.
There’s a bit of a serendipitous postscript on my search for a cornmeal waffle recipes last fall. At the time I could find no recipes from the Phoenicia Diner, nor even any claiming to be like theirs. But as I was starting this post, I stumbled upon the fact that the Phoenicia Diner released a cookbook, just as the pandemic shutdowns were starting. I have verified that the waffle recipe is in the table of contents, though you cannot see the recipe itself. In the TOC listing, it makes no mention of them being “cornmeal waffles.” It would be hilarious if that was all a figment of my imagination! But our cornmeal waffles are a treat, no matter where I got the inspiration, and I’m guessing that cornmeal is in their recipe. The waiter must have told me about it. I’m going to get the book and find out.
Notes for Restricted Diets. Some of the Florida family have dietary concerns with milk products and with gluten. So, when we made these waffles down there, we replaced the buttermilk with almond milk, soured with one tablespoon of vinegar, and used a “vegan butter” product instead of actual butter. We swapped in whole-grain oat flour for the whole wheat pastry flour. Getting the consistency right took a bit of fiddling. But in the end the results were deemed outstanding by all our eaters. I believe you could take the recipe the rest of the way to full vegan, by substituting silky tofu for the egg yolks and whipped aquafaba (garbanzo bean liquor) for the whipped egg whites. If you try that, please let us know how they turn out.