What was once tucked aside in a temporary space at Findlay Market has now grown into a regional phenomenon. With a full service Belgian bistro in Over-the-Rhine, the now permanent setup at the crossroads of the Market house at Findlay, and a new concept store in Columbus, a daring Belgian has delivered a European treat to our city in astonishing fashion. From the shores of the Meuse to the shores of the Ohio, he has transplanted a simple idea with wonderful results right here in our fair city. A once cast-aside breakfast item made as cold and lifeless as the Eggo boxes it graces, Jean-Francois has thrown out our preconceived notions about breakfast foods, and with it our ability to enjoy anything short of this criminally delicious Belgian treat.
The Taste of Belgium Bistro was opened this past September after more than a few years of what the local news outlets could only describe as the "feeding frenzy" that seemed to accompany Jean-Francois and his delicious waffles everywhere he went. From the opening of his cozy nook in Findlay Market in 2007, people could just never seem to get enough of the true nectar of Belgium (with Chimay coming in a very close second). It was with the establishment of this bistro on the corner of 12th and Vine that Cincinnati's demand for Belgian waffles began to be satiated. And this past Sunday, after a record-breaking win for best brunch without actually serving a Sunday brunch, hungry and hungover weekenders can now enjoy true Sunday brunches that will make many of us rethink our old Sunday go-tos.
So you think you've had belgian waffles, do you? While you may have found some deliciously gridded pieces of doughy goodness stacked five deep drowned with the compliments of the good Mrs. Butterworth appetizing, it's unlikely that you've enjoyed real Belgian waffles. Until now. The key behind Belgian waffles in the sense and execution of the Belgian style comes from the Waffle Patriarch's home town of Liege, Belgium, nestled along the banks of the Meuse river. The keys with these waffles are a hybrid of brioche bread dough and chunks of pearl sugar. What makes these distinct is the special waffle iron and higher temperatures at which it is cooked. While the inside remains fluffy and soft, the pearl sugar begins to not only melt, but actually carmelize around the outside, creating a crunchy and sweet shell around the warm treat. In Belgium, this is the most common waffle, generally served in the classically European paper wrap and meant to be taken to go.
Taste of Belgium Bistro has an excellent setup perched right at the entrance to OTR. A roomy bistro with a huge beer and wine list, you can actually watch many of the cooks ironing (waffling?) away right from the entrance. Plenty of seating and expansive views of the bustling Over-The-Rhine make this the perfect place to relax on a beautiful Sunday morning. The service too, was, and always has been, incredible. The waiters and waitresses here make it priority one to learn their customer base and be as gracious and hospitable as possible. Both Jean-Francois and his crew of talented young men and women take time out of their day to greet and converse with all of their customers.
Now on to the brand-new brunch menu. Although winning MetroMix's Best Of Cincy: Brunch last year, until this past Sunday, they have't actually served brunch in the classic Sunday sense of the word. While a waffle is the clear show horse here, there are a sampling of many other delicious breakfast items to help you fight off the cobwebs on a Sunday morning. This Sunday we knew we had to be down there for what was sure to be a sold out show on the waffle irons. I, of course, fell back to my ways of the one-trick pony. Going with the simple but delicious waffles described above topped with fresh strawberries and cream, I decided I needed at least a little bit of salt and grease in my morning, so I sprang for the goetta as a side- cooked perfectly crisp and a great contrast to the sweet waffles and tart berries. The real winner of the day was Jean-Francois' take on a classic- the goetta hash. A hearty bowl of goetta, sauteed onions, and peppers was thrown a curveball from across the pond- the whole dish came together on a terrace of fryer-fresh crispy frites. A truly astounding assortment of everything you really want in a dish. Heart-stopping in taste and cholesterolic extravagance as it was, it is well worth the trip downtown just to partake.
My dining companions of the morning went with something that their unlearned palates found soothing and comfortable- the McWaffle. A mighty belgian waffle packed with an over-medium egg and crispy canadian bacon, it was the perfect breakfast sandwich- sweet and salty, filling but not putting bricks in your stomach for the rest of the day. Accompanying my waffle was a classic doppio espresso with a single sugar cube. And, as an aside here, at no fault of their own, the whole no drinking mimosas before eleven on Sundays should have some wiggle room, no? But any other day, the bistro does have some fantastic orange juice that should naturally be accompanied by a strong Brut. Their crepe is also a delicious breakfast bite, with the 'Nati being my personal favorite. And if you stop down there during the week, be sure to have some time set aside for the Belgian Breakfast of Champions- a waffle with the Taste of Belgium pilsner. The true breakfast delight is the ability to be in and out with fantastic food that fills, but doesn't weigh you down, satisfies but doesn't stuff. And for around $15 plus tip for each of us, we couldn't ask for a better way to start our week out right.
More to come on this and hats off to Jean-Francois!!