with gallery: The Wafel Shop fills a tasty niche on Liberty Street
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Noah Goldsmith was bitten by the waffle bug when he traveled throughout Europe. He took two years to develop the recipe for the perfect batter. Now Ann Arborites can sample it at the The Wafel Shop, which opened in early February. Staff wear T-shirts that say "This is not a typo" on the back. (Wafel is the Belgian spelling).
Goldsmith's partner is Tia Hoffman. She says Goldsmith's background as a Zingerman's employee and a former day trader in New York perfectly complemented her experience running several coffeehouses in Indiana. Hoffman says the emphasis at The Wafel Shop is purely on preparing excellent waffles with wholesome, locally-sourced ingredients. "We use nothing boxed. We don't even own a freezer," she said. She expects this restaurant will be a draw for one simple reason: "People love waffles."
The Wafel Shop occupies the former Cafe Japon on Liberty, and the owners have put their own youthful stamp on the interior, painting the walls a bright orange and adding some seating capacity. The place now seats 16. In addition to the few aluminum tables and chairs (which are a bit too hard for comfort) there are counters with high stools in front of a window looking onto Liberty and by the cashier.
Owners of The Wafel Shop are attempting to bring the Belgian version of hand-held street food to Ann Arbor. It's waffles and nothing else but coffee drinks, teas and hot chocolate. There aren't even any bottled waters in sight, and they have yet to offer juice.
The latte I ordered was frothy and full bodied. The teas offered are varieties of the organic Rishi tea. I tried the ginger and, though it was the standard tea in a bag, it was high quality and made for a flavorful hot drink.
There are two types of waffles to choose from: the liege, described as dense and chewy, and the Brussels, intended to be crispy, with a fluffy interior. I couldn't detect much difference between the two, except that the liege tasted slightly sweeter, likely due to the Belgian pearl sugar; and it was a bit smaller than the Brussels. Both tasted delightful.
113 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor
Wafel Shop on Facebook
- Hours: Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
- Plastic: Visa, Mastercard, American Express.
- Liquor: No.
- Prices: Inexpensive.
- Noise level: Quiet
- Wheelchair access: Yes
Toppings fall into categories of fruit, spreads and syrups, chocolate, nuts and protein. Bacon is the only item in the protein section. Peanut butter, which is full of protein, is in the "spread" category.
My daughter ordered her Brussels wafel topped with strawberries, whipped cream and Nutella, which proved to be a great combination. The whipped cream was clearly fresh. My son topped his Brussels wafel with blueberries and chocolate chips. All the fruit we sampled was sweet, fresh and flavorful, with produce from Frog Holler. My son's observation, which I thought was accurate, was that it's difficult to keep the toppings within the little squares of the waffle. They tend to slide off, making for a messy and less satisfying eating experience. Incorporating the toppings within the waffle batter instead of just sprinkling them on top might make for more interesting and tasty waffles.
My waffle was the best of all we ordered, a liege topped with bacon, along with fresh, whole almonds (they were out of pecans) and maple syrup. The bacon was thick, crispy and amazing, but I still don't think it was worth the wait. After waiting roughly 20 minutes for my son and daughter's waffles, I was told the bacon would take an additional 10 to 15 minutes. It took longer than that, and I had to wait 40 minutes for the waffle. (A server offered to refund my money.) On my second visit, I noticed an ample supply of cooked bacon behind the counter, so hopefully that issue has been addressed.
The next time around, I tried the liege waffle with the biscoff topping, made from cookies. The hot waffle caused the spread to melt. I thought this spread tasted very much like graham crackers, making this resemble a sort of waffle s'more, absent the marshmallow. It was heavenly, so sugary it could easily qualify as a dessert or sweet snack.
I was skeptical of how peanut butter would taste on a waffle, but I decided to give it a try, pairing it with pecans on a Brussels waffle. It was actually quite good, and a bit more healthful (if not low calorie). The pecans, like the almonds, were plentiful and served in big chunks. Unlike my first visit, where the servers clearly were overwhelmed with the crowd, they delivered these two waffles in a reasonable amount of time.
The big question is the niche that this restaurant will fill and whether people will flock to a place that serves just waffles. With this in the dessert or snack category, I'll be curious to see if this becomes popular, as the waffles aren't substantially different from what you would find at popular breakfast destinations around town. Still, the place was bustling on a noon weekday, so perhaps the novelty will work, especially with the college crowd.