It’s golden brown. It’s crispy. It’s like a pancake’s older brother, if only he had perfect little built-in compartments for decadent toppings. Thanks to discerning tastebuds everywhere—and maybe Eleven from Stranger Things—the humble waffle is having a serious moment in the spotlight. And for delicious reason. Lucky for us, Woodbury abounds with waffle options. Here’s the rundown.
New Woodbury Cafe
The quintessential breakfast spot, New Woodbury Cafe serves traditional entrées in a laid-back, family-friendly spot. And when it comes to waffles, nobody does ’em better.
The standard homemade waffle is malted and served simply with syrup and powdered sugar. Try it Zydeco-style with fresh blueberries, bananas and pecans.
“Sometimes we switch ’em up,” says front-of-house manager Kim Hall. In fall, they bust out the apple streusel topping. “We used to have an Elvis waffle with chocolate, bananas, and peanut butter. But we have lots of regulars who come for the caramel apple crisp one.”
That bad boy is the traditional waffle generously topped with cinnamon apple chunks, caramel, and whipped cream. House-made granola and cinnamon sugar give it a warm crunch. “It’s almost a dessert … it definitely takes care of your sweet tooth,” Hall says.
Keys Cafe and Bakery
You can’t really call yourself a Minnesotan without some working knowledge of Keys Cafe and Bakery. With serving sizes that make most blush, it’s from-scratch home cookin’ “like you grew up with.”
The omelets are legendary. The pancakes are monstrous. The caramel rolls melt in your mouth. But the waffles? “Our customers love our waffles,” says Woodbury Keys general manager Amy Mahowald. She explains that they’re Belgian, large, and topped with powdered sugar and whipped cream. “But we have all sorts of fruit and nut toppings we can add to any waffle along with real maple syrup.”
“All sorts” includes strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples, peaches, bananas, pecans and walnuts. And if that list doesn’t cut it, “of course you could put our homemade jam on it as well,” she adds.
North Pole Restaurant
North Pole serves all-day breakfast in literal mom-and-pop style. Open in some form since 1960, co-owners and siblings Brian North and Tricia Hinz are the third generation of Norths to operate the shopping mall, pharmacy and restaurant in the heart of Newport.
North is quick to explain the distinction of his waffles. “A Belgian waffle is a variety of a waffle that features lighter batter, larger squares, and deeper pockets. The height is nearly 2 inches,” he says. “They are amazing and relatively light and fluffy compared to a normal, crunchy, toaster waffle from the frozen section of the grocery store.”
At North Pole, there are three main topping options: the homemade maple syrup, whipped cream, or strawberries. The batter recipe? It’s a long-held family secret. There’s another long-held family secret to success in the restaurant biz: regulars. North Pole has an almost cult-like following, says North, with some guests coming in twice a day, seven days a week. “It reminds us of the old sitcom Cheers!” he says.
If you’re ever in the mood for something non-waffled, try the infamous hang-over-your-plate-sized pancakes. While the tiny restaurant serves about 10 waffles a day, they serve about 65 plates of pancakes daily.
“We’re a family-owned, back-to-the-Fifties, retro diner,” says Ze’s Diner owner Moody Arafa. Lest the greasy spoon connotation get too far ahead of him, he explains he was district manager in charge of food purchasing for a few local restaurants before he launched the business, which is named for his wife Zeze and now has two locations. He took advantage of his connections to quality ingredients and still stops at nothing to infuse familiar menu items with fresh flavors and imagination.
The waffles are thoughtful, malted, made from a signature, house-made waffle mix. “It’s thick, and stands up nice,” says Arafa. That’s a good thing, too, because they come topped with fresh strawberries, bananas, blueberries or chocolate chips. There’s a smaller kids’ version, too, but many of Ze’s littlest regulars order their waffles straight off the adult menu. One mom once told Arafa those waffles were the only way she could get her son out of bed on the weekend. We’re not saying we disagree.
Lake Elmo Inn
Lake Elmo Inn owner John Schiltz can easily rattle off the local restaurants who still do an all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch. He knows which ones still serve bottomless champagne, who uses white tablecloths, and who charges what. After 34 years in business, it’s a slice of higher-end restaurant culture he knows well. “But it’s slipping away; you hate to see that go away,” he says.
Mother’s Day brunch brings 900 people through the doors of the smallish Lake Elmo institution. That day, they open the books for the next year and are 80 percent booked by sundown. Every other Sunday, about 300 is typical.
“I’ve been to places where they really dress up a waffle,” Schiltz says. But he and his team know most visitors will take a waffle in addition to heaping plates of charcuterie, eggs, bakery, homemade caramel rolls, and some of the 20-40 desserts in the line-up. So instead they go modestly sized in the way of waffles, with mini-Belgians in ever-revolving flavors. They’ve done cranberry, pumpkin and blueberry. They’ve been served with fresh fruit compotes, walnut hard sauce, pumpkin purée, whip and syrups.
Champagne is a given, with non-alcoholic available. “Kids love being in on a toast,” he says. Many regulars have thanked him for being a staple of their family traditions, and they bring kids in to teach them how to enjoy a meal properly in an upscale restaurant. Though it’s family-friendly, it’s undeniably upscale, with white tablecloths and ice carvings done weekly. “It’s not the movies, it’s everyday life,” Schiltz says. “But we still want to create that special experience.”