I left off my last post about Brussel’s food with my dinner on Monday evening. I went to work again on Tuesday, and while we didn’t go out for lunch (we ordered sandwiches), my lunch was fabulous; a baguette with brie cheese on it. It doesn’t sound like anything special, and to some might actually sound boring and not enough, but it was hands down the best bread and brie cheese I’ve ever had. Seriously, so good.
Dinner on Tuesday night took me to a more authentic and traditionally Belgian restaurant, Fin de Siécle. The restaurant had mostly rave reviews, but I was a little timid knowing that their only menu was a giant blackboard in the middle of the restaurant, and it was only in French as it was a “locals” place. I decided to take a chance and go for it, and arrived around 6:30pm. The restaurant was mostly empty, but in a matter of about 40 minutes it was completely packed and people were waiting for seats! The restaurant is actually hall/cafeteria style, so you’ll likely be sharing a table and sitting next to people you don’t know (unless you snag one of the single tables, which are few and far between). While there were a lot of things on the menu that I couldn’t decipher, there were also a lot of things that I did know, which is the beauty of being somewhat familiar with the culinary world (albeit in a very novice sense), since a lot of words aren’t English. While I was deciding on what to get, I noticed one of the waitresses taking the time to talk with two young girls (in English) about their menu and what everything was, and I was impressed that she’d take the time to do so, as customer service isn’t put at such high standards as it is here in the U.S. (service people are paid accordingly so they don’t rely on tips, and they work together). Eventually I decided on the Stoemp, which was essentially fancy mashed potatoes. It was served with two sausage links (that I didn’t eat – but I’m not picky when it comes to that, I don’t care if meat might have touched what I’m eating – I just don’t want to eat it myself) and a phenomenal gravy. I washed everything down with a beer (of course) and loved the entire experience. It’s cash only (they have a bunch of signs) so make sure you stop at an ATM beforehand!
After dinner I decided to take a trip to EXKi, which is a quick service health food restaurant. They serve up pre-made salads and sandwiches, as well as baked goods, coffees and tea, and Caffeine Free juices. I had read about a speculoos cheesecake, and knew I had to have it. I grabbed myself a slice of the cake and ordered an espresso machiatto to wash it all down. I should note that they aren’t big on “Americanos” (or what we know to be regular ‘coffee’) so most of the coffee drinks you’ll get are espresso based, and served in miniature cups. The cheesecake and espresso were both delicious, and I wished I had more time to visit the restaurant to try more.
I worked from my hotel on Wednesday since we were done with our necessary meetings, and made my lunch break a little nontraditional – hot chocolate at Frederic Blondeel! In addition to having a shop full of their delicious chocolates (or as the Belgians call them, confections), they also have a tea room that serves up coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. I settled in to a comfortable seat in the adorable little shop and ordered myself their 100% cacao hot chocolate. Each of their drinks come with a chocolate that compliments your hot chocolate, a biscuit, and a small glass of water to help wash it all down. This was hands down the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, and I didn’t want it to end!
For dinner, I decided to try a restaurant literally around the corner from my hotel, that had rave reviews – Bia Mara. A fish and chips restaurant started by two Irishmen is simple, no frills, and seriously delicious. You have the option of choosing the kind of fish and the batter you want, a seasoning for your chips, and also a dipping sauce for it all. They also have a vegetarian option, which is always appreciated! I had walked by the restaurant my first night and noticed people literally waiting in line outside for a seat, so I knew I’d have to get there early (which seemed to be the theme of my trip). And let me tell you, it did not disappoint! The chips were unbelievable (dare I say better than any of the frites I devoured), and the dipping sauce (I went with their lemon truffle aoli) was absolutely amazing. The service was also super quick and really really friendly, and I left wanting more! I wish I had tried Bia Mara earlier in the trip, because I definitely would have made a point to make my way back there at least one more time to try another combination. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the deliciousness – but trust me – it was great!
Despite being pleasantly full and happy with my dinner, I knew that my trip wouldn’t be complete without at least one Belgian waffle. There are tons of stands and stores all around the city that offer up the same thing, so it was really just a matter of picking one. The waffles start at one Euro and go up from there depending on what kind of toppings you go for. Naturally I picked the Nutella waffle, and loved it. They aren’t just any kind of waffle; they have just the right amount of crisp with a hint of caramelized sugar, but are stilly chewy and soft like you’d expect from a waffle. Whatever topping you get melts all over, and there’s really no good way to eat one. I’m pretty sure I had it all over my face by the time I was done, but it was worth it!
Thursday was my last full day in Brussels as I had an early flight out on Friday morning, so I made sure to get in everything I had on my to-do list. First up was “breakfast,” which by the time I got out of the hotel and walked all the way to the restaurant, it was more like lunch. I had read this particular restaurant, La Clef d’Or, was a bit further off the beaten path, but worth the trip. It reminded me a lot of an old school diner, where they offer up a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and it’s no frills. It’s actually right across the street from a flea market which would have been fun to check out, but it was raining and I was already pretty miserable from the cold and wet walk over. I remember reading about their Spaghetti and that it was not only a generous portion that was delicious and covered in cheese, but you could order it any time of day. After looking at the menu and their specials, I went with the giant bowl of spaghetti (for only 8 euros) and a coffee. It was absolutely delicious and filling, and worth the trek there. It’s cash only, though, so keep that in mind!
After lunch I made sure to stop and get as much chocolate as possible to bring home. This sounds like an easy task, but I was actually a little overwhelmed. I wanted to get “the best” chocolate, and with so many artisan chocolatiers in Brussels, I didn’t know what stores to go to. Eventually I decided on Neuhaus and Galler, and picked up a bunch of different variations of dark chocolate for myself as well as some friends and family. I also read fabulous things about Mary and Pierre Marcolini, and would have stopped in to grab a little something if I had more time. After loading up on chocolates I headed over to Maison Dandoy to get myself some speculoos biscuits. If you know me at all, you know I’m completely obsessed with Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter (which is made up of ground speculoos cookies), so it was only natural that I bought some of the real thing while in Brussels. I wanted to buy everything in the store, but eventually settled on a box of vanilla speculoos biscuits and left before I got myself (and my wallet) in deeper trouble.
When it came time for my final meal in Brussels, I had one requirement – moules and frites. Despite it being a “must have” meal when you’re visiting, I couldn’t really find any one particular restaurant that had good enough reviews to make me want to venture out somewhere new. Having eaten at Houtisplou on my first day and enjoying it, I decided to head back there since I knew they offered moules and frites. The restaurant is two stories, so I decided to sit upstairs for dinner on my last night, which felt fancier (although it wasn’t really). I ordered the famed moules and frites and of course enjoyed it with a beer. I’m going to be honest here – when I’m traveling abroad I’m not strict with my vegetarian diet. When there are language barriers, and typical traditional cuisine, I like to try and fully experience the city I’m in. That being said, if there are vegetarian options available I will always order it, and if not, I go for a fish dish. So knowing that moules and frites were a must-have in Brussels, I went for it… even though I’ve never been a fan of mussels. I’m not exaggerating when I say that these were probably the best mussels I’ve ever had. While eating them I remembered why I didn’t like them – you almost always get a few that are super gritty, as well as a bunch of shells that haven’t opened from cooking. Well that wasn’t the case with these mussels; they were almost all completely open, and there was no grit. Not to mention the broth they were served in was phenomenal. The meal was well worth veering off of my vegetarian diet for – but I don’t plan on making it a regular occurrence.
Being stuffed from dinner, I didn’t make a stop for one last frites cone or one last waffle. But I did head back to Delirium Café for one more beer! After my farewell beer it was back to the hotel to pack up and get to bed, since I had to be up early for my flight back the next morning. While it isn’t really specific to this trip, I think it’s worth noting that the meals I was served on both of my United flights were actually quite impressive. I selected the vegetarian option, and received an Indian styled dish on both flights, which looked infinitely better than either of the meat options that were available for everyone else. So I suggest to anyone flying that isn’t vegetarian, you should still request the vegetarian option (if available)!
My next post will be all about the beer – so stay tuned!!
Ever traveled somewhere that has a famous or traditional dish? What was it? Did you try it (and like it or hate it)?