You can get a “Belgian” waffle at pretty much any hotel with a continental breakfast. There’ll be a dispenser that you use to fill a cup up with batter to pour into an iron; 90 seconds later, voila, a crispy and more or less flavorless waffle.
At Sadie’s, located at the corner of Pugh Street and Calder Way next to the Rathskeller, making a Belgian waffle — or more properly, a Liege Belgian waffle (the city where it comes from) — is a two-day process. And it’s one of only four restaurants in the United States that serves these waffles in their traditional form — a yeast dough recipe that requires imported pearl sugar from Belgium. The waffle then, as well as all the other menu items, is served with friendly hometown vibes and a bag that affectionately has “Made with love” handwritten on it.
Even with that conscientious process, Sadie’s regularly churns out between 300 and 400 waffles per day.
Sadie’s and its authentic waffles trace their roots all the way back to Belgium and one lady who inspired its warm atmosphere with her friendly demeanor and passion for waffles.
The restaurant is named after Sadie DuPont, an elderly woman who manager Cindy Walk met in Belgium while traveling with her husband in 2007. As the story goes, Sadie was selling waffles out of a food truck when she offered the travelers her recipe after they raved about them.
“We told Sadie that if we ever started a restaurant, we’d name it after her,” Walk said. “We mail her pictures of the restaurant and the waffles because she doesn’t use the Internet. We haven’t heard from her but she was probably thrilled to see the pictures.”
After getting the recipe from DuPont, Walk spent about three months perfecting it. After much trial and error, she finally got the meticulous, old-fashioned recipe right. The process is quite laborious, with the dough having to rise a total of four times over a span of two days. In the end, each waffle weighs over six ounces.
While staying true to the delicacy’s traditional European ingredients, the team at Sadie’s has had to Americanize it a bit in order to appeal to local customers. Whereas waffles are only served with powdered sugar in Belgium, Sadie’s provides additional toppings, including unconventional pairings such as the Sweet and Salty, which has bacon, maple cream, and syrup on it. Customers can even customize their toppings on each order. Furthermore, the waffles at Sadie’s are made to order so that each one is warm and crisp when it is served, compared to how in Belgium, they are made all in the morning and then sold throughout the day.
Although waffles are the restaurant’s best sellers and what it’s known for, Sadie’s boasts quite a diverse menu of breakfast sandwiches, wraps, and other traditional baked goods, almost all of which are made in house.
Like the waffles, the other baked goods sold have a heavy European influence. One popular item is the stroofwafel, a popular on-the-go Belgian breakfast item for those heading to work. It is essentially two small waffles with caramel sauce between them and is eaten like a sandwich.
Along with the unique European flavors and inspiration, the appeal of the menu at Sadie’s is the restaurant’s commitment to having fresh, uncompromising ingredients. For example, the pearl sugar is a natural, unrefined sugar with a distinct sweet taste. Only available in Belgium, the pearl sugar is necessary because it doesn’t break down when mixed with the dough so when the waffle is cooked, it caramelizes, creating a syrupy coating.
With the exception of a few items that are shipped in from New York to be sold, almost everything on the menu is made on premises, including many of the waffle toppings, such as the brown sugar sauce and various compotes, and the three-cheese sauce on the mac and cheese.
“Everything here is made from scratch, the way it’s supposed to be done,” Walk said “It might not be gluten-free or vegan but everything is all-natural. That’s how cooking used to be. In Europe, everything is still fresh and nothing is frozen so we’ve been staying committed to doing that.”
The differences between Sadie’s and your average waffle or restaurant don’t just end with ingredients or their taste; it is more about the warm, folksy vibes that emanate throughout the café.
“We want it so that when you come in, it smells and feels like your grandmother’s kitchen because it is so homey in here and because everything we do is so personal,” manager Cindy Walk said. “We don’t treat the kids like dollar signs. Kids will write to us on Facebook saying how they miss their moms but that this reminds them of home. We get a lot of kids who come in here to study during the week or to hang out and that’s what we want, for them to come in here and make memories. No one’s doing that for the kids around here.”
Sadie’s offers free WiFi to invite students in to study as well as free coffee for groups looking to hold meetings at the restaurant.
That student-focused mentality has helped quickly make Sadie’s a local favorite in a college town that is dominated by an overpricing supermarket and poaching franchises like Starbucks and Sheetz all of which lack many natural, fresh items and prey on hungry students with few options.
Meanwhile, Sadie’s offers $1 coffee, a variety of breakfast sandwiches all for under $6, and BOGO Mondays where any purchase of a deluxe waffle comes with a free classic waffle. Waffle prices range from $3.95 to $6.25.
Founded by four Penn State alumni and with a commitment to both the students and university community, the staff at Sadie’s is determined for the café to enter the upper echelon of Penn State food traditions, alongside the likes of the Creamery, Canyon, and The Tavern.
“This is the only one we’re going to have and I want it to be a Penn State tradition. People have asked why we don’t open up a location in Harrisburg or Philadelphia but [we]want this to be unique to Penn State.”
Memories are what make give a local favorite spot its luster; those behind the scenes know how important that aspect is.
“We want students to come back here when they’re alumni and say ‘Let’s go to Sadie’s. That was a place that was special to us.’”
Sadie’s has been creating that environment in a pure way, in accord with what esteemed public official Leslie Knope once said, “We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn’t matter, but work is third.”