Belgian Bliss

Café at Cedar Walk creates ‘wow’ waffles

By Amy Rogers | Photos by Ray Sepesy

The Duggan family had endured too many frigid Nebraska winters when they decided North Carolina would be the perfect place to relocate. So, Chris, Krista and their five kids packed up in 2010 and moved to a townhome in Ballantyne’s Cedar Walk. With no experience in the food business, and just the advice of food-concept consultants, they opened Cast Iron Waffles in the storefront space below their home.

It’s a European-style café where you can smell the coffee and pastries before opening the door. “We wanted a specialty food item that is amazing and unique,” Chris explains. “Something you couldn’t get on any street corner or in any town.” The Duggans developed their own recipe, but skeptics might wonder: Is there really that much difference between one waffle and the next?

The answer is a delicious and definite yes. There are basically two styles, both named for towns in Belgium.

Brussels-style waffles are made from batter. Liege (“lee-age”) waffles, the only kind served at this establishment, are crafted from a brioche pastry dough that’s rich in butter, eggs and imported pearl sugar that caramelizes when cooked.

The preparation for Liege waffles is different, too. It takes two days to make the dough, which must rise twice. After cooking in a 90-pound waffle iron from Belgium — hence the restaurant’s name — the result is a perfectly crisped coating that surrounds a sweet and buttery pastry.

The restaurant’s Fresh Fruit Deluxe Waffle is dressed up with smooth Nutella, a combination of bananas and berries, and whipped cream made in a special Italian machine.

Cast Iron Waffles — A European-style café where you can smell the coffee and Lumberjack Waffles as you walk in the door.

A sweet-and-salty Lumberjack Waffle is studded with bacon bits and topped with maple buttercream. Don’t expect syrup; these are sweet enough without it. Anyone who can manage to put away four deluxe waffles wins recognition with his or her photo on the “Waffle Wall of Fame.” Coffee drinks are crafted with a proprietary blend of beans.

Now that the business is up and running — with help from the kids who range in age from 16 to 23 — the family has moved to a larger home near Ardrey Kell High School. On a recent visit, daughter Sylvia made espressos while Ella delivered just-baked waffles to diners at the counter and at a cluster of small tables. Asked if this was their first visit, a trio of friends all shook their heads no. “We come here all the time,” one said.

On Saturdays, customers pack in, sometimes three deep at the bar, but service is fast. Chris and Krista designed the menu and prices to be family friendly. The shop sells waffles in bulk and vacuum-seals them for two-day shipping to most anywhere in the country. Café hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week.

While still unusual in the U.S., waffles are a popular street food in Belgium. People stroll and nibble on “naked” waffles, plain and unadorned. It’s too soon to tell if that trend will catch on here. But one thing is certain: you’ll never look at these confections the same way after you learn how they make them in Liege — and at Cast Iron Waffles.

There’s no waffling on that.