Waffallonia's staying power is questionable
Specialized food shops seem to be a growing trend in Pittsburgh. First there was Dozen Bake Shop for delicious cupcakes, and then there was Razzy Fresh for frozen yogurt. They both have limited menus, but sell food that is affordable, well-liked, and consistent.
Now there is Waffallonia, a new waffle store in Squirrel Hill located at the old Dozen Bake Shop location. This bar-style waffle shop offers a limited variety of Belgian waffles. It is straightforward: You select a waffle and choose your toppings. The basic waffle is the Liège waffle (priced at $3), a pearl-sugar waffle served warm.
The menu behind the counter resembles a timetable at a European train station, decorated in green and white. Opposite the counter, a labeled map shows that Waffallonia names its waffles after different cites in Belgium, all connected by train. Waffles are ordered here and quickly snacked on at a ‘bar’ in the back.
Toward the back, there are three small ‘bars’ with a couple tall stools, enough for one to snack on a waffle efficiently and head out, not for sitting and chatting. The stools are not uncomfortable, but eating at the bar facing the wall is rather constrictive. The wooden panel wall reminds diners of a European winter cabin, a romantic notion that could be challenging to maintain once blazing summer comes to Pittsburgh.
Waffallonia is a play on words with Wallonia, a French-speaking region of Belgium. Waffallonia uses a cast-iron Belgian waffle iron with a larger and deeper indentation. In engineering-lingo, it gives a larger surface-, or crust-to-volume ratio. The iron is not what makes the waffle Belgian, however — it is the dough.
Unlike crisp American waffles, Belgian waffles are dough waffles rather than batter waffles. The yeast-based dough gives a different weight and texture than the batter of American cake waffles. Belgian waffles have a developed gluten structure — similar to bread — that makes the waffles thicker and more substantial.
The sugar waffles, Liège, have imported grain-size pearl sugar folded into the dough. Unlike granulated sugar, pearl sugar doesn’t melt away, instead staying more intact. At Waffalonia, the waffles have some caramelized edges and glaze where some sugar has melted against the iron. Diners can often bite into a waffle and find some sugar pearls still intact, resulting in small pockets of sweetness.
Waffallonia partially pre-bakes its waffles and finishes the baking when the waffle is ordered. While the store’s attempt to serve hot waffles amid the cold is admirable, the workers rarely heat the waffle long enough, so the end result is a warm waffle — not a hot, dark caramelized waffle — which can be somewhat disappointing. Customers might be able to convince the person behind the counter to cook it longer, but some workers are more willing than others. As a new shop, Waffallonia is not yet a smooth-running waffle bar, but will hopefully soon become one.
The basic Liège, slightly darker and warmer if asked for, is fantastic for those who do not have a big sweet tooth. It’s not too sweet, and eating one feels like eating a substantial, but not sugar-heavy dessert. Those who enjoy sweeter snacks should go for the Antwerp ($5), which is ice cream and chocolate sauce on a sugar waffle; Bruges ($4), a sugar waffle with strawberries and whipped cream; or Namur ($4.50), which is a waffle loaded with bananas and Nutella. If making a choice is too hard, there’s also the Charleroi ($5), which has strawberries, bananas, and Nutella, or the Waffallonia ($6), which can be loaded with every topping of choice. Whipped cream (+$0.50) or fruit toppings (+$1) are also available for customizing waffles.
There’s also an option of Speculoos spread. This Nutella look-a-like is a spread made of ground Speculoos, a European dessert cracker. The cracker is a specialty made in northern France and southern Belgium, near Wallonia. In Belgium, this sweet cracker is made up of various combinations of winter spices and beet syrup — imagine a winter-spiced animal cracker. One can ask for a Liège with Speculoos spread (+$1) smeared on like Nutella.
Waffalonia serves ice cream from Oakland’s Dave and Andy’s Ice Cream, a great option for when summer comes along and a hot waffle won’t do. Dave and Andy’s also makes a special Speculoos ice cream for Waffalonia to spice things up.
Waffalonia’s Liège is in every way becoming a great Pittsburgh waffle, with a respectable crusted sweet dough. But is a waffle with strawberries, whipped cream, and ice cream really a dessert? The restaurant’s set-up does not say “weekend breakfast,” and the waffle doesn’t seem to want to be breakfast either. And in the world of a college student, how will a $3 waffle stand up to a $3 bowl of frozen yogurt, especially when summer is just around the corner?
There is another question: Will Waffallonia be able to follow Dozen’s success? Remember that Dozen latched on the cupcake craze started by Carrie Bradshaw eating Magnolia Cupcake’s swirl frosting. The scene is so legendary that Magnolia now has multiple locations in Manhattan and has inspired other similar cupcake shops around the country. Even Dozen has branched out of mere cupcakes and turned itself into a multipurpose bakery, though. Frozen yogurt was already popular around the world before Razzy Fresh came to Pittsburgh. So, where does that leave Waffallonia’s Liège, Antwerp, and Bruges, and what will Waffallonia’s staying power be?