Last weekend, I treated myself to a power breakfast of waffles and french fries. Afterward, I could feel the ground rumbling beneath my feet a little—Dr. Atkins rolling in his grave, no doubt. I’m not especially proud of this, but it wasn’t even the first time I’d snarfed down that particular culinary combo. I had done the same thing before, a few years ago, during a visit to Bruges—Belgium’s historic, canal-strewn, medieval city. I was so eager to try an authentic Belgian waffle and Belgian frites, that I found myself sampling them simultaneously.
Should you feel the need to experiment with the waffles-and-frites diet, you don’t have to travel all the way to Belgium— although, if that’s an option, you should.
Rather, you can just pull up to Pierre Vandamme’s new Bruges Waffles & Frites, located just west of Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli, across from Pioneer Park. The motto for this joint might be “big flavor, small space.” Bruges Waffles & Frites is located in the diminutive spot that was previously home to Billy Z’s Aloha Island Style Sushi. There’s just about enough room to turn around in—maybe not quite enough if you’re loaded down with frites and waffles. Claustrophobes should look elsewhere for sustenance.
The lean, tall, wiry Vandamme—he’s a cycling aficionado—looks super-size in the dollhouse kitchen. One thing’s certain here: Your food will arrive hot, having only to travel a couple of feet from the cooking area to the customer counter, where there are exactly four stools to sit on, along with two or three metal tables and chairs scattered on the sidewalk outside.
All over Belgium, you find street vendors selling waffles from carts. The same goes with fries, although sometimes they’re sold from small vans or storefronts too. Pierre Vandamme, a native of Bruges, has doubled-down and combined the two. As you may have guessed by now, at Bruges Waffles & Frites that’s the extent of the menu: waffles and frites (although Flemish stew sometimes also appears). I’ve been saying for years that if someone were smart enough to open a downtown frites stand, it would be like printing money. Now we’ll get the chance to see if I was right.
So far, business at Bruges Waffles & Frites has been brisk, and I imagine it’ll get brisker when the weather turns less brisk. After all, Vandamme’s waffle cart at the Downtown Farmers Market has been a big hit on summer Saturdays for years.
Now he’ll find out if folks have a fondness for frites and waffles that extends beyond grazing at the market. Forget everything you think you know about Belgian waffles. If you’ve had ’em at IHOP, you haven’t had the real thing. At Bruges Waffles & Frites, Vandamme makes and sells the hot, yeast-raised gaufres (waffles) favored by Bruggelingen, called the Liege waffle. Supposedly created by the Prince of Liege’s cook in the 18th century, a unique aspect of the Liege waffle is that it must contain small pieces of sugar within leavened dough. It wasn’t long before the gaufre became wildly popular in the Liege region and then throughout Belgium.
The Liege waffle—which has a somewhat dense texture, is golden-yellow, has a burnt-sugar crust and is typically eaten by hand—shouldn’t be confused with the Brussels waffle, which is more uniform in shape, has deeper divots, and is eaten with a knife and fork. At Bruges Waffles & Frites, Liege waffles are sold for $3 each. However, the optional toppings are more Brussels-style, and include Belgian chocolate ($1), whipped cream ($1) or fresh strawberries ($2). The basic waffle, which is irregularlyshaped but roughly the size of a 45-rpm record, is available plain (slightly sweet) or with a hint of cinnamon, which is my preference. I think it probably goes without saying that a Liege waffle topped with generous amounts of dark, rich Belgian chocolate is less a breakfast item and more the sort of thing you want to bring to an orgy. But, fair warning: Once you’ve had that particular rendition of a waffle, nothing else may ever suffice.
The first thing you should know about Belgian frites is that it’s as much about the fry sauce as it is about the fries. And I hate to break it to you proud Utahns, but the Belgians beat you to fry sauce long ago. In Belgium, fries are always served with a selection of mayonnaise-based sauces. Frankly, I’ve always been a little disappointed in Belgian frites, but not in the sauces. That’s because I like my fries a little thinner, with the skin intact and double-cooked—just my personal preference.
The frites at Bruges Waffles and Frites are as authentic as can be: hot, crisp and served in crazy-generous portions. A “small” order ($3) is more than enough for two people to share. There’s also a medium-sized portion ($5) and a large size ($6.50), which ought to be called “ginormous” since it feeds a small army. All the frites come served in a paper cone, with one free dipping sauce (extras are 65 cents). There are seven sauces to choose from, including curry, plain mayo, aioli and—my favorite—the “Andalouse,” made with orange bell pepper, fresh basil, mustard, cayenne, Tabasco and secret seasoning.
Never one for waffling, I hereby proclaim waffles and frites the ultimate breakfast.
BRUGES WAFFLES & FRITES
336 W. Broadway
Open 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday
8 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday