This post originally appeared in the February 24, 2020 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
Ordering brunch is an exercise in algebraic decision-making, but will usually land you somewhere around waffles. Eggs and bacon you can make at home. The hollandaise on the Benedict is risky — could be great, or could be congealed slop. And while the matcha/CBD/fermented Dutch baby is certainly adventurous, you and your hungover stomach maybe don’t need that right now. Waffles (or pancakes or French toast) are reliable, hard to fuck up, and always a little bit special. Until it comes to the syrup. At best, it’s “maple flavored,” and at worst, it’s something like “tutti frutti” that tastes as if it’s been infused with Bath & Body Works glitter spray. Which is why my move is: Carry a bottle of real maple syrup to brunch.
I’ll start with a caveat: Yes, on a manners note, it’s generally poor form to bring in an outside version of something the restaurant serves. And this isn’t a great move when a restaurant offers real maple syrup for $2 extra, despite how annoying those upcharges are: They’re like how cheap airlines lure you in with “not paying for more than what you need” and then you find yourself being charged for ginger ale or the option to pick your seat. Please, restaurants, just make your French toast $14 instead of $12 and serve it with the real stuff. And if you serve it with the real stuff, then yes, I understand your disapproval of my brunchtime suggestion here.
However, more and more often — and not just in chains like IHOP and Denny’s — the real stuff isn’t an option, even at brunch spots with poached eggs and single-origin cold brew for $5. Instead, your buckwheat raspberry waffles are served with a crock of “maple-flavored” corn syrup with caramel color and artificial flavor resembling nothing close to the warm, tangy sweetness of actual maple syrup. This sort of false labeling is what the Poison Squad fought against! Or worse, they arrive with just butter or jam or some other indignity.
If the real stuff is not an option, then surely a restaurant can’t fault you for deploying your own syrup in what is clearly an emergency. For about $13, you can get three 1.7-ounce bottles of pure Vermont maple syrup, perfect to slip in your purse or coat pocket and splash onto your pancakes with ease and subtlety. Or, you could decant syrup from a bigger jug into any bottle or flask you may have. Some may look at you strangely for this, either because they claim they can’t tell the difference between real maple syrup and Butter-Lite Aunt Jemima, or because they prefer goopy, childishly sweet “pancake syrup.” Stop having brunch with them; they are not to be trusted.
This shouldn’t have to be a move, but restaurant waffles are special. Pancakes are pretty easy to make at home, but waffle irons are bulky unitaskers that aren’t practical for a lot of people to keep in their kitchens. And Eggos, while delightful in their own way, sometimes just don’t cut it. So many of us must outsource those crispy pockets where all that good, real maple syrup can pool, leaving us at the mercy of our restaurants to have the condiments that make the waffle experience so exceptional. If they don’t, you gotta do what you gotta do with your one and precious life. Bring your own syrup. And if you get kicked out, you didn’t hear this from me.
P.S. Plus, we must enjoy good maple syrup while we can, before global warming kills all the trees.