For fear of losing my Lone Star State credentials, I must begin by saying it’s hard to name one iconic brunch dish in Texas. Our vast state covers so much ground (literally 268,596 square miles) and relies on dozens of cultural groups for its diverse foodways. We’ve got eggy Mexican dishes—including huevos rancheros and migas—in the south, Czech-inspired kolaches and klobasniky across the Hill Country and out west, and all kinds of cross-cultural gravies (including my family’s chocolate variety) for biscuits up north.
And lest I be accused of overlooking one of Texas’ most profound and important inventions—the breakfast taco—I must tell you that those aren’t brunch fodder. Of course, you can eat them for brunch, but most are consumed for everyday breakfast, sometimes lunch, occasionally dinner, and maybe even as a late-night after-drinks snack, but they certainly aren’t a brunch specialty. A regional icon, yes, but not for brunch. That honor belongs to the Texas-shaped waffle.
Why the Texas-shaped Waffle Is a Brunch Icon
First off, it’s shaped like Texas, a shape which we Texans are born and bred to adore. We prefer everything in our lives to be Texas-shaped: pools, tortilla chips, doormats, sinks, blocks of cheese, cast–iron skillets, tattoos. To me, a Texas-shaped waffle just seems more natural, frankly, than one shaped like a circle or a square. And I’m not alone in my passion. You can find Texas-shaped waffles everywhere across the state, from little local cafes using in-house batter recipes, to public-school and university cafeterias, to hotel restaurants in big tourist cities and one-stoplight towns alike.
Where to Find a Texas-shaped Waffle
The good news for the visitor to Texas is that these waffles are easy to find. On a bustling corner in downtown Austin, for example, the historic Driskill hotel serves up a “famous” pecan-studded Texas-shaped waffle at their its cafe. On a budget? Chain hotels including Super 8, Best Western, Hampton Inn, Marriott, and La Quinta provide Texas waffle makers as part of their self-serve continental breakfasts. These DIY dreams were part of my childhood; I distinctly remember nearby pitchers of batter dripping lazily on the counter and the great shape of Texas beckoning from the steamy and slightly dangerous depths of the open waffle maker. When I was finally old and tall enough to pour, close, and flip the waffle maker myself, hotel breakfasts took on a mature sense of luxury. I, a Texan, had arrived.
The Origins of the Texas-shaped Waffle
While the waffle can trace its origins to the Middle Ages, the contemporary waffle iron made its debut with Cornelius Swartout’s invention and patent in 1869 (electric models followed about 50 years later). And while electric waffle irons were particularly popular in southern states like Texas where they cooked without overheating the house during hotter months, the Texas-shaped waffle iron appeared around the 1990s. It’s a modern miracle, in other words.
But could a loyal Texan get their own waffle iron to continue the tradition? This proved tricky. In 2003, a reader wrote to consumer columnist Jane Greig at the Austin American-Statesman asking for a lead on where to buy a Texas-shaped waffle iron like the one her grandkids used at a Comfort Inn in Lubbock. Ever the dedicated journalist, Greig asked everyone and found that though the irons exist, they weren’t available for sale to the public. Online forums including Tripadviser, Yelp, Foursquare, Reddit, and one very quarrelsome Google Answers page also included long threads of folks trying to track down their own Texas-shaped waffle makers, most with no clear answers.
The irons, it turns out, were likely made by wholesalers and offered by providers of bulk orders of pancake and waffle mix to hotels and schools.
The one exception to the hotel-only supply chain: a pricey option from the now-defunct gourmet housewares brand Vitantonio Manufacturing Company based out of (oh no) Bedford, Ohio. In 1993, Vitantonio debuted the Texas Waffler, a variation featuring a double outline and a five-point star in lieu of standard Belgian-style squares. The iron made “a perfect 7-inch Texas-shaped waffle in about 90 seconds” and retailed for $50 (a basic waffle maker retailed for about half that at the time).
Nowadays Texans (or wannabe Texans) can at least buy a miniature state-shaped waffle maker at H-E-B (the unofficial grocery store of Texas). A full-sized version is also for sale at the Bullock Texas State History Museum store. And while the waffle irons themselves may not be made in Texas (I’ve yet to find one that is), that distinctive silhouette summons the place, and that sweet brunch dish, with nostalgic perfection. And that’s iconic.