When life gives you a teensy coffee shop with no tables, no chairs and a counter with just a few electric sockets, you make waffles.
Specifically, crackly and airy Brussels-style waffles (see the recipe); deliciously inauthentic, hash-like pastrami waffles (see the recipe); and a tall glass of cold brew swirled with creamy sake (see the recipe), all from Lt. Waffle in San Francisco.
You have Anthony Myint, the chef behind the waffle wonderland and half of the brains behind Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco and New York City, as well as SF's Commonwealth and the soon-to-open The Perennial, to thank for this. The Mission neighborhood, where Myint's made his name and lives with his family, didn't have a good coffee shop until Andrew Barnett, formerly of Ecco Coffee later sold to Intelligentsia, wanted to get back in the coffee business two years ago.
So the two found their sliver of a space on 18th Street and dubbed it Linea Caffe (Lt. Waffle is inside). Barnett pulled espressos as Myint researched waffles all over the interwebs, grabbed pastrami from Mission Chinese for his latke-like experiments and plugged in that fateful waffle iron. Since then, Lt. Waffle and Linea Caffe have become a neighborhood staple.
"It's just a happy accident with the constraints of working in 300 square feet and with a waffle iron," Myint says. "Here, we can we make something interesting that you can't get anywhere else."
That seems to be the line of thought among chefs when it comes to the much-maligned breakfast/brunch service. No longer is it a sad bottomless binge or leftovers slapped with a fried egg afterthought, rather a new playground for flavors, technique and actual pleasure among chefs.
"I think Wylie Dufresne summed it up perfectly when he described breakfast food as being very 'fuckwithable,'" Jonathan Brooks, the chef/owner of Milktooth in Indianapolis, says. "It leaves a lot of opportunities to surprise guests' palates and break the rules."
At his breezy, daytime-only breakfast joint, breaking the rules looks like savory versions of Dutch baby pancakes scattered with roasted shiitakes, shaved fennel and pickled mustard seeds, and house-made bialys stuffed with lemon-paprika lox—and it's getting attention in the form of a spot in Bon Appétit's Hot Ten list and a Food & Wine Best New Chef title this year.
"The stacked pancakes with chocolate chips are going by the wayside, and there is a much greater finesse to open the box on breakfast and be more thoughtful around it," Josh Henderson of Seattle's Westward and soon-to-open all-day brasserie Saint Helens says.
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"Chefs are starting to ignore the old dogmas about brunch and realizing that it can be really good," Ignacio Mattos, the chef and co-owner of New York City's always-hot Estela, adds. "You can please people and be comforting and reach a wider audience without compromising your style or your ideas," Mattos says. "If there's a demand for it, and you can respond to it in a way that is enjoyable and good for the restaurant, why not?"
Estela's brunch is an open secret among food people, where you don't have to wait out the crowds (or shout across the table) to indulge Mattos's smart, whimsical cooking. But also because with brunch, "it's nice to be able to incorporate more egg dishes, which I like to eat, and to do different things we couldn't do at dinner," according to Mattos, who stuffs the beloved ingredient into a satisfying pancetta-and-avocado sandwich and bakes them until fluffy with leafy lovage and kale in frittatas.
"For me, it's simply that I really love the meal," Mattos says. "It has a ceremonial quality to it—more than other meals, since it is a necessity for a lot of people to start their day."
As you're starting yours with a hot, crisp waffle tomorrow, you'll see what he means.