Bruges Waffles & Frites
336 W. Broadway
Salt Lake City 801-363-4444
Brugeswaffles.com
Mon – Thurs: 9am – 7pm
Friday: 9am – 9pm
Saturday: 8am – 9pm
 

I guess the secret is out. Over a year ago, Belgian restaurateur Pierre Vandamme took the success of his Downtown Farmer’s Market waffle cart and parlayed it into a permanent brick-and-mortar food destination just south of the Gateway Mall. Those who frequented the market knew that Vandamme was there, in the space once occupied by Aloha Sushi. The place was unknown to almost everyone else. The relocation of the Twilight Concert Series to Pioneer Park, a spot on a local TV broadcast and a recent snippet on the Travel Channel series Man v. Food have culminated in the general public’s discovery of the one-time stealth waffle and frites house. This discovery is a good thing. The shop’s attention to detail, use of quality ingredients and kitschy Bruggelingen décor coalesce into a uniquely Belgian eating experience.

There’s something to be said about sticking with what one knows best. This is the unspoken credo of Bruges. The menu is simple and focuses on very traditional Belgian fare. When you walk in the door of the tiny shop on 300 South, it’s like you’ve walked into a greatest hits collection of Jacques Brel come to life. You are first greeted by a photo of King Albert II. Before you even notice the King, you’ll hear dripping water and look up to see a large replica of Manneken Pis, the famous bronze Brussels statue of a urinating four-year-old boy, resting atop the drink case. Then, there are the Smurfs littering the counter around the cash register. These combined bits of Fleming and Walloon regalia set the stage for the handful of flat land delicacies available here.

The sign outside really says it all: Waffles (gauffres) and frites. Everything offered is a variation on one of these two themes. You may think you know these foodstuffs inside and out, but if you haven’t had them the way Vandamme makes them then you haven’t really had them. The waffles vary greatly from the poured-batter variety we normally see on this side of the pond. Bruges makes them in the traditional Belgian way, using a yeast-raised dough that has to proof before it can be placed in the iron. The dough is infused with vanilla and is also available in a cinnamon variety. What really sets them apart is the customary tradition of sweetening them with a polished pearl sugar. The large sugar bits stay solid in the dough and melt as it cooks, imparting an almost ethereal sweetness to the gauffre. At a scant $3 a piece, it almost seems criminal to pay so little for one. Don’t look for butter or maple syrup—the shop offers a variety of long-established Flemish toppings, allowing the buyer to customize the waffle to his or her liking. Ranging from $1 to $3 each, one can add a variety of fruits, chocolate and cream to the dish. A popular variety comes served with sliced strawberries and crème fraiche, a sweetened whipped cream. I usually order mine with dark chocolate and bananas. The melted chocolate competes a little with the crisp, warm gauffre for top billing, but the two parts pair well together and create the perfect platform for the chilled fruit.
 
The frites, or fries, benefit from the double fry method. They are cooked once to ensure that they’re done in the middle. The oil is then allowed to heat up again, and they’re cooked a second time to crisp the outside. The result is a crusty exterior with a tender, steamed center. They are served in paper cones and range in price from $3 to $6.50. Bruges also offers almost a dozen different dipping sauces. You may never want ketchup again when you know you can have Mammouth, a tarragon-and-mustard-based sauce, or Samurai, a sauce made from basil, mustard, garlic and red chili paste. A personal favorite and the most traditional Belgian sauce (if you don’t count straight mayonnaise) is the Andalouse. Made with orange bell peppers, basil, mustard and cayenne pepper, it will make your eyes water and get the chorus from the Pixies song “Debaser” stuck in your head.

The most exciting lunch option, and the absolute best use of Andalouse sauce, is the Machine Gun Sandwich ($8.99, tax included).  A variation on the traditional mitraillette, Bruges’ version is a split baguette stuffed with Moroccan-spiced lamb sausage (merguez) and topped with fries and Andalouse sauce. You’ll have to eat two thirds of the fries before you’ll be able to close the sandwich and finally taste the piquant North African sausage. Once you get to that point, you’ll understand better what an endurance test finishing the thing can be. The flavorful and slightly garlicky bite of the elusive link will stay in your memory for a long time to come. If you manage to eat the whole thing, you may not be hungry again for days.