May 5, 2010

A Reason to Frolic

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I have to be honest; I bent the rules for this review. First, my visits were the second weekend the restaurant was open (a fair analysis would have given the restaurant a while to get any kinks worked out). This place, though, was too enticing to wait. Second, I blatantly ignored half the menu. Viking doughnuts filled with nutella? I’ll pass. Paninis, like the house special with bacon, caramelized onions, apples and havarti cheese? Not this time. I was at Waffle Frolic. I ordered waffles.

Opened on April 17, Waffle Frolic, a waffle bar and coffee house, is the creation of two Ithaca College graduates, Alexis Randall and Julia Pergolini. It’s an unassuming place, tucked away in the Commons between Cell Phone City and Ithacards, with only a white and red banner announcing its presence. (Ironically, it’s right across its only true competition, a Belgian waffle restaurant called Home Dairy.) The interior, though, is much more inviting and homey. At street level, where customers order, the walls are painted green, orange and red, with black railings that emanate a quasi-tribal vibe.

The kitchen and prep area are entirely open, allowing customers to order and watch as their meals are made. On several trips I noticed that the three young women running the show moved sluggishly, with dark circles under their eyes as a result of working nearly all of the 80 hours the restaurant is open every week. However, they seem to have a handle on the lack of sleep — the food is fantastic, the service genuine and friendly.

Heading upstairs, waffle and cup of Fair Trade Certified coffee in hand, you enter a living room-cum-café. With paintings by local artist Lisa Holt, individual bar seats overlooking the Commons, two-tops along the walls and a central area housing leather sofas and love seats, the space is downright cool. There’s even a small library intended as a book swap. Throw in the free Wi-Fi, and Waffle Frolic becomes an ideal place to dine alone or with friends, read a book, enjoy some conversation and relax.

The restaurant is hawking classic buttermilk, hearty hemp and buckwheat and vegan and gluten-free waffles. Each is a three square wide by five squares tall with exceptionally deep grooves, perfectly designed to cradle toppings (clever engineering, because the waffles alone don’t taste like much). At $3.50 for one, $5.75 for two, they are slightly overpriced, but reasonable. You most definitely won’t leave hungry.

Toppings, where things get interesting, are divided into three categories: $.25, $.50, and $1.00. Leave the maple syrup and chocolate chips for the amateurs and top your waffle with lemon curd, a sweet (but not cloyingly so) and tart (but not mouth puckering) choice. If you’re famished, go all out on unlimited toppings for an extra $2.50 and choose from a selection that includes walnuts, nutella, granola, homemade blueberry-strawberry compote, shredded coconut, apple butter, sliced banana, whipped cream and peanut butter. I recommend the agave syrup, a vegan substitute for honey that has a mild caramel flavor.

Also offered are waffle ice cream sandwiches and outrageously good cornbread waffles with chili. For the full experience, head down on a Friday to snag one of the two coveted outdoor tables and order chicken and waffles, the daily special. Go with a hemp and buckwheat waffle, which is topped with crispy fried chicken, hot sauce and maple syrup. It is sweet, salty and spicy — a satisfying, memorable lunch.

To drink, try some locally roasted coffee, or unusual offerings like Tommy’s Naked Soda, China Cola or Blue Sky Soda. The vanilla crème soda by Natural Brew, made with bourbon vanilla extract, is an especially good refreshment option without the heavy or overly sugary qualities sodas often carry.

During all of my visits, the line was consistently 15 people deep, proof that Waffle Frolic’s advertising on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and the restaurant’s own website is working. Or, maybe it was simply because Waffle Frolic perfectly delivers on its promise of “good coffee + good food + good vibes.”  RLD

Original Author: Harry Flager