I’m waffling about many things right now, but certainly not about Off the Waffle, a new itsy bitsy neighborhood waffle shop near the Whiteaker. Because Eugene, you are just the place for a tiny authentic Liège-style Belgian waffle shop next to a Shell station on 7th.
“Forget everything you know about waffles,” says Omer Orian’s business card. Omer, one of the two brothers who own the shop, took a moment the other day to show me what I should know once I forgot. As we were talking, FedEx dropped off two large boxes of imported Belgian pearl sugar.
And herein lies the secret. Gaufres Liégeoises, the famous sugar waffles from the Belgian city of Liège, use pearl sugar to sweeten the dense, moist interior, and to crackle up and caramelize the outside of the crunchy exterior. The product is wholly unlike any other waffle you’ve tried. Make wif ze clicky to check out more information about the sugar and style of the gaufres liégeoises.
In Belgium, as at Off the Waffle, the waffles are served in a small paper sack and eaten as street food. They are not really a meal by any standards, unless you fancy a quick pastry for breakfast. Off the Waffle serves Noris Dairy milk and Wandering Goat coffee, which both are a lovely match.
I tried the plain, suggested by Omer and most authentic to the way they are served on the Belgian streets, and a goat cheese/blueberry combination. The plain waffle was delicious as is. He was right. The caramel crunchiness on the outside was slightly bitter and added a layer of flavor to the sweet, rich dough. The “goat blue,” as he called it, was less sweet, and a very pleasurable balance of tang and musky blueberry with the caramelized sugar. It was difficult to take the leftovers home to Retrogrouch, but I managed. They were gone in a snap.
Other flavors include apple, banana, strawberry, mango, nutella, peanut butter, cardamom and cinnamon, and walnut. Surely more PNW flavors, like marionberry and hazelnut, will follow? Other than the pearl sugar, the waffles are made with organic ingredients, and the owners seem quite invested in making an authentic, high-quality product with ingredients sourced close to home. The sugar, Omer explained, is simply not available in the quality and quantity needed for a Liège-style waffle. I say go for it, if that’s the case, because the sugar is what makes these waffles unique.
The waffle shop sits on the first floor of a cute little house. Jazz is piped outside, and fills the shop. Yay. When I was there, I enjoyed (I’m pretty sure) the Belgian gypsy jazz stylings of Django Reinhardt, the perfect accompaniment to some top-shelf waffling. I didn’t have my camera on me when I dropped by, but the place is picture-worthy, and Omer has his own quirky design sense that will help branding the product. It doesn’t have much seating, only a long dining table scattered with books. Customers are encouraged to take or leave a book. You should ignore the liquor license application for now, as it probably won’t result in a pub any time soon (the brothers are considering making artisan fruit liqueurs and the like, not offering mixed drinks and beer and such). It would be great to have smaller café tables to linger, but I’m not sure this is the model they’re trying to craft, sadly for us.
Omer said they were doing advertising in a very limited and grassroots way right now*, and they have plans to expand with another shop near the university once the opportunity arises. For now, as the home base works on perfecting the waffle craft, he said that he wanted to keep the profile low. It’s a neighborhood place, he said, and we just want the cool people to know about it.
So, if you are cool, check it out:
Off the Waffle. Open 8 am – midnight, they claim, 7 days a week, 740 Van Buren, Eugene.
* There are some ruffled feathers on Yelp with claims that the owners are posing as customers in the reviews, but I don’t see any substantiation of that. It’s clear to me that the brothers have been test-marketing their product for some time now, and if their friends wrote tongue-in-cheek reviews before the shop opened, well, they did. Welcome to the internet, which is not exactly a Michelin guide. In any case, the Orian brothers should clear up any misunderstandings.