“Gaufres de Liege Waffles here … Get your Meggos while they’re hot.”
This was what I heard while walking through the the American Royal World Series of Barbecue food truck area in October. If you know me, the phrase caught my attention, and I stopped in my tracks. Liege Waffles? Seriously? In Kansas City?
I saw a man leaning out of the Waffler food truck window screaming my name: “Jasper, try one. You will be hooked.”
Little did I know, I certainly would.
I took my first bite and closed my eyes. The waffle had a texture of a brioche dough with a sweet sticky exterior. The caramelized sugar on the outside glistened and was the most delicious buttery sweet treasure I had enjoyed in a long time.
I immediately asked the owner his name, and he replied, “I am Russell Viers, the Waffler.”
I told him he needed to come on my radio show on KCMO and discuss his treasure. I thought he was a vendor from outside Kansas City just visiting the American Royal.
He told me he was local and invited me in the truck. I told him I had a radio show in 10 minutes but asked whether I could join him some morning and work on the truck with him, a secret desire on my bucket list. He did not even bat an eye and said yes.
In the meantime he gave me another Gaufres de Liege Waffle — the proper name — and I was in waffle heaven.
We met at my restaurant the next week, and Viers told me about the waffles and his journey.
The real story dates back 10 years to the Central Train Station in Brussels, where he saw a little woman behind a window with the waffle iron selling Gaufres de Liege. He went up to the window and ordered one, and at first bite he was in love. Not with the lady, but with the waffle.
“Someday I’m going to learn how to make these,” he said to himself.
Over the years he tried a couple of times but without too much effort or success.
Then last April the dominoes started falling on a series of events that put the Waffler on the street. His daughter Meghan, in planning her wedding, decided she wanted food trucks for the dinner instead of a catered meal.
Her quest for a dessert truck left her empty-handed, so she challenged her father, “You know, if you would ever make those damn waffles you keep talking about, I could have them at my wedding.”
That weekend, Russell went into the kitchen and created the great-great-grandfather of his current recipe.
“I’m always tweaking … always improving,” he said.
“I was inviting family and friends over to taste these just for the wedding, and they would say, ‘Dude, you need a food truck.’
“No way was I going to do a food truck,” he said. “I love my job. I don’t need a food truck. Then I was making flavors like lemon, almond, cappuccino, and they were saying, ‘Dude, you need a food truck.’ ”
Now he has a food truck.
One of Viers’ best friends, Brent Niemuth, is a branding expert in Kansas City, and he gave Viers some advice: “You can’t call them ‘waffles.’ … You have to come up with a product name.”
After playing around with many ideas, Viers just took his daughter’s screen name and applied it to the waffles … “Meggos.”
The Waffler always has his “Classic” Meggo, which is a traditional vanilla Liege waffle. He’ll always have a second flavor, which might include lemon, orange Danish, cappuccino, almond, dark chocolate, red velvet or his most popular, maple bacon.
I did not ask Viers for the recipe, nor do I even want to attempt to make these. I do know that he uses high-quality flour, fresh cracked eggs, butter and Belgian beet sugar, which is a must. Viers explained that a chef in the Liege area around 1858 added beet sugar to a brioche recipe and cooked them on a waffle iron. It became known as Gaufre de Liege.
To this day, Viers purchases only certified sugar from the Brussels government that is 98.7 percent pure.
The waffle is not made from a batter but rather a dough related to French brioche bread. It is prepared on imported cast iron Krampouz waffle irons.
Last summer Viers perfected his recipe, purchased a truck and was in business. He also made his daughter and son-in-law happy, and set up a waffle bar at their wedding.
The Waffler came up with a five neat marketing concepts:
▪ Make the best waffle on the planet.
▪ All the tips go to local charities. He changes the charity monthly and has raised as much as $729 one month for KC Rescue Mission.
▪ Free coffee, with the suggestion that tips go to charity. He has ordered refillable coffee cups that read “I tipped over my coffee at The Waffler.”
▪ He makes Mutt Meggos — dog dreats made with peanut butter — and hands them out free.
▪ Follow the Waffler on Facebook, say a secret phrase, and you save a buck.
In my first experience on a food truck, I arrived at 7:45 a.m., 15 minutes before opening. There was a line of people waiting outside the Waffler’s truck.
I was greeted by Viers’ father and stepmom along with his two sons. Viers handed me an apron and gave me a three-minute course in the art of Liege waffles.
Viers proceeded to tell me that it’s a two-day process to make the dough. It has to be made a day in advance. Then he has to roll in the sugar, break it into portions and place it in as many as 300 containers.
Orders were coming in left and right. I did not use the waffle stick to pick up the waffles, just my hand that was clothed in a glove. Now I have been cooking for 45 years and thought: “No big deal. I will just pick it up and roll it in cinnamon sugar and place it in packaging.”
Ouch! These little delicacies were pretty darn hot and melted my glove. This beet sugar melted and gave the waffle a delicious, crunchy glaze.
Unlike my own kitchen with 55 different dishes and desserts, it was really hard keeping up with orders. People were ordering four and five at a time.
My time was short, and I only got to work three hours, but it was an experience I will never forget.
Viers has a real day job traveling the globe and doing speaking engagements, and he is also a graphic designer by trade.
Viers generally parks the Waffler truck at Gregory Boulevard and Wornall Road on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s there from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 59-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.