OFF THE WAFFLE and I have this in common: We were both conceived in Eugene, but once we got a bit older, we wised up and got the hell out.
We both still have family in the area though. Off the Waffle, now open on SE Clinton, still has two restaurants in Track Town, where brothers Omer and Dave Orian started slinging Liège-style Belgian waffles in 2009.
We've got history, too. I was still in Eugene when Off the Waffle opened in an old house in the now super-trendy Whiteaker District, featuring a free book exchange and selling pearl sugar waffles. As a young reporter, I loved their golden handmade creations so much I featured them in a business story for the Register-Guard—the first-ever press they got.
Now, the brothers Orian are here in PDX, tucked into a small, but well-lit space kitty corner from the Clinton Street Theater. I'm here, too, tucked into a cubicle... and a sandwich. After a few years apart, I can say that Off the Waffle is still pretty loveable.
Liège waffles, according to the Orians, are richer than their plain-old Belgian counterparts, with pearl sugar folded into the batter, which melts and forms a crispy, sugary exterior when cooked up in a cast-iron waffle maker. You probably don't need syrup. The style isn't new to Portland—the sugary denseness is the stuff of take-out Waffle Window and the Gaufre Gourmet cart (also due to open a restaurant soon).
Yet, in true Portland-fucking-loves-brunch fashion, Off the Waffle isn't hurting for business. Weekend visits are already an event with a continuous line—made up of Broder refugees too hangry to wait, hungover twentysomethings, and families—waiting to order at the counter and snag seats as they open up. The menu breaks down options into savory, sweet, and in-between; it's the middle ground where you'll have the most success. To wit: Every visit should include an order of the Be Brie-Peared ($7.50), a jammy blend of fresh pear, caramelized onions, and melty brie with a maple balsamic glaze. It does the best job of combining the inherent sweetness of the Liège waffle with a funky cheese, tart pears, and the loving bite of onion. Eating a whole pile of sugar in the morning is sickening—this gives just a hint of sugar without the impending threat of Type 2 diabetes.
Unless you're five years old (or have an incredible sweet tooth), it's a better plan to order one of the sweet offerings as a "table waffle" to share. Go for the Overachiever ($5.25) and definitely pay the extra $1.25 for the whipped cream. It's a Mont Blanc of cream, crisscrossed with trails of house-made dark chocolate and boulders of banana cascading down onto the waffle. There will be fork battles for the last bite.
But here's where the eating public and I may differ: I couldn't really get into the savory waffles. There's some really promising entries, like the Goat in Headlights ($9), with chèvre, avocado, fresh basil, two sunny-side-up organic eggs, smoked paprika, coriander, and Arbequina olive oil. That sounds amazing over a potato hash to me. Over a sugary waffle, though, it's like taking a bite of pot roast and following it with a bit of cookie. Repeatedly. Similarly, the Cyclops the Greek ($9.50), with kalamata olives, tomato, sautéed onions, feta, spinach, sunny-side-up egg, and house-made tzatziki, sounded too good not to try. But it got pushed around the plate and eaten separately. Yet at tables all around, I overheard people talking up the very same dishes.
There's better balance with the Courtney Jensen ($11), a bacon, spinach, cheddar, and Monterey jack omelet. The eggs really needed salt, but it was a square meal when paired with organic greens and a plain original Liège treat on the side. Be ready to let the staff know what you think of their meal; they invariably come around multiple times to ask. Take it as your opportunity to welcome some new kids to town.
Open daily from 8 am-2 pm. No reservations, no indoor waiting area. No espresso yet (go across the street for that). Frozen plain pearl sugar waffles sold to go.