TRAVERSE CITY — There’s been an unlikely smell lingering around the taproom at Right Brain Brewery.
It’s not fresh hops, nor is it the sweet smell of steeping malt, although those scents are readily available in the company’s beers.
Nope, it’s the smell of someone thinking outside the culinary box — it’s the smell of cooking Belgian waffles.
A puff of the sweet, bready smell erupted from one of two waffle irons on the taproom’s back counter Wednesday morning as Chef Mike Meador lifted its lid to extract two cooked waffles.
The squares of crunchy, puffed batter weren’t destined to be drowned in syrup or buried under fruit topping. Meador quickly turned to his stainless-steel kitchen table and laid the steaming confections on a piece of parchment paper and began to layer sandwich toppings on one of them.
“Russell encountered waffle sandwiches at a food truck out in Portland,” Meador said, referring to the brewery’s owner Russell Springsteen. “It made sense. Waffles are bread, so you can put anything between them.”
Meador said at first he first was skeptical about the idea of replacing sandwich bread with the crater-filled breakfast food. He was a chef trained in classic French techniques who graduated from culinary school, interned at a cutting-edge Chicago restaurant, and had worked for some time at Bistro Foufou in Traverse City.
He was looking for a change of pace and had heard the brewery was looking for a chef.
“I’m not going to lie, I balked the minute he said it,” he said.
But that was before the experienced chef took a job offer and began to build the brewery’s menu of off-kilter sandwiches from scratch.
Meador’s chef’s station at one end of the bar and the waffle sandwiches that pass across it each day get plenty of sideways looks from outsiders, but for those familiar with the sandwiches and the brewery, they’re a perfect fit.