Belgium is quietly nestled between the Netherlands, France and Germany with Dutch, French and German being the three official languages. Its proximity to France and Germany and its Indonesian colonial influences are reflective in the food. I had been to Belgium twice before, but wanted to try some places outside of Brussels.
For 2016, there were over 130 restaurants awarded one, two or three Michelin stars in a country the size of the state of Maryland. There are also numerous restaurants worth visiting that aren’t mentioned. I don’t strictly rely on the Michelin guide to find places to eat, but for traveling, it has proven to be a good launching point.
Having only four meal slots to spend in Belgium, it was hard to choose where to eat. The unfortunate issue with dining in Belgium is many top places are at least an hour away from each other, so that also drives your itinerary. Belgian food is not really in the “trending talk” of American social media, but has some really phenomenal food.
I narrowed my choice to: In de Wulf and De Karmeliet because they will be shuttering by the end of the year, Souviner, L’air du Temps, Castor, Boury, Pure C (return visit) and Bon Bon. After combing through my notes on “every place in the world I want to go,” contacting friends, saved places on Facebook, a smattering of messages, and who was open when, I decided on my picks (with friends help!) and came up with: Bistro Bruut, Hertog Jan, Willhem Hiele and Hof Van Cleve, none of which were in my original picks but in the end, gave a strong representational variety between new, local, up and coming, classical, and modern.
I left my house on Monday at 11:30 am Chicago CST time and arrived Tuesday, 10:30am, Belgian CET time. Belgium is 7 hours ahead so it was really 16 hours from door to airport yet I still had to leave the airport and get to my first destination, lunch at 1:00. Easy right?
The Rooster Says “Cocorico”
Bruges is about an 1 1/2 hours west of Brussels but almost 3 hours if your rental car’s GPS only speaks French and you get disoriented in rotundas having to go around them twice to get out on the right street. The only French I could recall from high school was the farm theme chapter, and whenever I drove past a cow, a pig or a barn, I was able to ”think in French.”
It would be expensive to hire taxis so I rented a car. This was my first time driving in Europe. I had no sense of how fast I was going. There were no speed limit signs anywhere. All the streets didn’t have signs and the ones that did, didn’t match the names on my phone. I couldn’t ”feel” how long a kilometer was. I didn’t understand the arrows painted on the roads, when to go down in the center tunnel, or when to go to the right to exit. Red signs, black X’s. blue arrows and street names I couldn’t pronounce.
I wanted to give up, pull over to the side of the road and cry but was on a very tight schedule. Besides, I was given an upgrade to a beautiful C-Class Mercedes so it would’ve been pretty pathetic to be sad about that.
Lunch at Bistro Bruut
My first destination was lunch at Bistro Bruut. It was the perfect setting, service, vibe and food for my first meal.
Walking Around Bruges
Belgium is known for their chocolate and while there are dozens of chocolate shops and chocolate tours all over the city, there were only two that I wanted to visit. It becomes easier to pick once you start reading and researching all of the tales on how the different chocolatiers got started. Like restaurants, I read articles, talk to people and follow awards and lists, but in the end, I try to seek places which are appealing in some personal way or that I find special or unique.
The Chocolate Line by Dominique Persoone
Dinner at Hertog Jan
Some of the most beautiful plating can be found at Hertog Jan. I can’t recall the last time I didn’t want to eat my food, simply because it was so beautifully constructed. Here are the photos from my dinner.
I checked out in the morning and headed to my next destination for lunch. This is a place I want to return. It was tough being in a hotel across the street from De Karmeliet and not have time to try it. They will be closing at year’s end and I will never have know how good it was.
I loved everything about this enchanting city: the small streets, the colors, the shapes of the rooftops, the doors, the uneven cobble stone roads and narrow sidewalks all with the bikes, horses and scooters whizzing by.