Long weekends are great. Long weekends exploring new countries are awesome. Long weekends exploring new countries with Belgian beer, waffles, and chocolate are the best. Period. That’s right, last weekend Jim and I flew to Brussels/Bruges for the most lovely (and gluttonous) weekend in a long time. Bruges might be the perfect spot for a long weekend, as it’s small enough to feel like you’ve really explored it, but large enough to not get bored. We stayed for two nights and felt that was the ideal time frame to really enjoy all the food/beer without feeling rushed.
Now, a trip to Belgium is a long time coming (for me). Belgian beer is my favorite. In fact, before I’d had Belgian beer, I swore all beer was awful. It wasn’t until I moved to Philadelphia and became a regular at Eulogy Belgian Tavern, Monk’s Cafe, and Benneluxx Tasting Room (sadly no longer in business…but one heck of a tasting room) that I became a self proclaimed and sincere lover of beer. What’s more, I discovered I absolutely love Belgian Blondes, Triples, and Strong Pale Ales. I became enamored with the intense tap lists and beer menus at these three spots and made it a point to try as many different beers as I could each time I visited. I never realized when I moved to San Francisco it’d be so hard to find a good Belgian beer (though they did have Le Trappe & The Trappist in Oakland), but they were harder to get to & had crappy hours (Eulogy was only a few blocks away from my apartment in Philly). When we came to France, I was excited, as I figured there’d be amazing Belgian beers on taps at all the bars and restaurants here in Toulouse. I was wrong. France does not have much of a beer culture. Sure, I’ve found a nice bottle shop (La Voie Maltée), but no Belgian Taverns (at least, not yet). So, to say I’ve been jonesing for a great Belgian beer is quite the understatement.
We started our trip with an early morning flight out of Toulouse where we landed in Brussels close to 9am or so. Pretty effortlessly, we purchased a train ticket [about 22 euro/person] and made our way to Bruges. After an 80 minute train ride, we arrived, dropped off our bags at our hotel and set out to explore the city. On our way to breakfast, we spotted our first bottleshop. I was in heaven. If our hotel room had had a refrigerator, I would’ve bought sooo much beer. Also, look below. I didn’t even known Delirium made a red ale! Mind = blown.
From the bottleshop we wandered into the main Markt/Square of Bruges and it is gorgeous. There’s the infamous Belfort (a bell tower), the Provincal Court (gray with red, behind the horses), and Flemish style houses/restaurants. We’ve been told there’s a market here on Wednesdays, but we were only there Friday-Sunday, so we missed that. We can also say if you’re looking for a time to explore/take a good photo, before 11 or after dark is your best bet (Belfort photos toward the end). Otherwise it’s a bit of a madhouse. Jim and I decided we’re totally in love with the Flemish design. Jim’s favorite is the stair step roof.
After taking in the Markt, we pushed past toward our breakfast choice. Based on my recent post concerning mousse au chocolat, you also know I love chocolate. You’ve probably also heard that Belgium is known for chocolate. It’s no secret this was a selling point for the trip. Additionally, they’re known for amazing waffles. I’d been researching where to get the best hot chocolate, what was the best chocolate shop, where to get the best waffle, etc. Not too surprisingly, there were mixed feelings on where each would be. However, I had been won over by Lizzie’s Waffles, as they were a shop that sold waffles and hot chocolate that weren’t just takeaway (so we could sit down and enjoy). They were also known for having an insanely large waffle and loads of topping options.
The waffle was HUGE (see above). Originally, due to the size, Jim thought we could share one, but I protested a bit and he ended up ordering his own. This was good because while these waffles are quite big, they’re pretty light/airy. We likened it to a funnel cake consistency moreso than that of a waffle. We also opted to get chocolate sauce to pour on top. Ideally, strawberries and chocolate would’ve been my choice, but strawberries are only there in the summer (you need some acid to cut all that chocolate), which was a bummer. I also ordered a dark chocolate hot chocolate. In what we came to learn was typical Belgian fashion, a glass of hot, steamed milk is brought out to you with chocolate shavings, which you drop in yourself. This particular one the chocolate came inside a chocolate tulip. This was maybe one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had. In Dublin we had a similar experience and in Helsinki it was pretty amazing. I had (probably) 4 or 5 different hot chocolates throughout the weekend, and this one was the best. I recommend you stop in here for a hot cocoa and a waffle. But, don’t make this your ONLY waffle…there are more that will blow your mind.
After emerging from somewhat of a chocolate coma, we began exploring the city, wandering into chocolate and lace shops, exploring additional places like the Burg (another square), featuring architecture of all sorts – Gothic to Renaissance to Neo-classicist. Probably two of the most beautiful buildings are housed in this square: the Stadhuis (Town Hall) and the Old Civil Registry/Old Courthouse.
You can see the Belfort in the photo above from the other photo as well as the gate/passageway from the Old Court House to the canal. I think the courthouse was one of my favorite buildings as it was so small, but totally gilded with golden Lady Justice at the very top.
From there we decided to make our first stop for some libations. Since we had some sun (it was supposed to be overcast/cloudy on Saturday/Sunday), I suggested we try a bar called The Beerwall, which wasn’t too far away and boasted lovely canal views. This place had maybe 10 beers on tap and a HUGE bottle selection. We opted for two on tap that we’d never had before – Jim got a local brew (Bourgogne des Flanders) and I got a blonde (Mémé). We then settled into a nice spot on the terrace where we could watch the tour boats go by and enjoy the pleasant weather. If you’re here in the summer (or on a day with nice weather), we can only imagine this is an insanely popular spot. I also think it might be super touristy. In fact, I wondered if it was like the Hard Rock Cafe of Belgium Beer Houses. Regardless of that, get there early if you want to sit outside, as it is pretty nice.
Our first beers were OK, and I decided the real gold wouldn’t be in the beers on tap, but in the bottle selection. I’d spied a Fort Lapin blonde, which was a local triple beer for something like 4 or 5 euros (amazing beer at amazing prices). This, my friends, was a great beer. Highly recommend giving this one a taste. I also sat amazed at all the prices of beers I’d seen at Eulogy and Monk’s Cafe that boasted $9 or over $10 prices for one glass (like Orval) that were under 4 Euros here. Oh, to live in a country that makes great beer and sells it at affordable prices (just like France does with wine).
After our afternoon libations, we made our way back to our hotel to check in and take a nap (we woke up at 4am to catch our flight there). After a little snooze, we hit the cobblestones again on our way to our first dinner at a Dutch spot outside of the tourist center called In’t Nieuw Museum.
If you are going to Bruges, go eat at this restaurant. Period. Make it happen. It was one of the best meals we’ve had in a long time. It’s a casual, home-y atmosphere full of locals, and I think might be run by a family. Imagine this – a small restaurant that sits (maybe) 50 people with a medium sized bar and exposed grill on a hearth in the dining room. The tables are all wooden with dark lighting, dark walls (covered in beer memorabilia/signs). Then you’re greeted by a beer master – Koen (or maybe Koeu). We took our seat and were handed menus. On the front page there was a chef’s menu (Starter of Camembert, Main of Ribeye Steak, Dessert of Tiramisu) for 50 euro and for 60 euro you could add a beer pairing (Bourgogne des Flanders, Chimay, and I cannot recall the third). When Koen came to take our order, we said we’d love to get the chef’s menu, but had already had the Flanders ale and wanted to know if we could swap that one out for something else. He said, “No problem. Would you like different tastings for both of you so you can try different things?” Us: “YES!!! That would be amazing!” Friends, we were in for an evening of sheer culinary delights.
The meal started with Koen bringing us two sour beers: Vanderghinste Oud Bruin Flemish Sour Ale and Ichtegem’s Grand Cru Flemish Red Ale. Both were great. I think I’m now on a sour beer kick (I drank a bunch, almost exclusively at Christmas). I ended up drinking most of the sour ale while Jim finished off the Red Ale. These were to be paired with grilled camembert cheese. Since living in France we’ve eaten a lot of camembert, but never grilled. It was amazing. They grilled it on that stove in the middle of the dining room, then added honey/salt/pepper to the top, popped it into a little bowl and handed it to you with a spoon. This combination of beer and cheese was out of this world. I am exceedingly excited we can recreate this here in Toulouse without much problem.
Our main course was next and started with Koen bringing out the ribeye steaks they were about to put on the grill. They were huge and looked perfect. We then got to watch the meat master cook our beef. Then Koen returned with two more beers. He mentioned that these are the most commonly paired beers with the ribeye. One was a blonde the other a triple, but two neither of us had ever had: Moinette Blonde from Dupont and De Dolle Dulle Teve 10 (Mad Bitch). Then our steaks, salad, and frites arrived (see below). I kid you not, this was the best steak I’ve ever had. Ever. And I cannot think of a time I’ve eaten a ribeye (in recent memory) and paired it with a blonde or triple. But, I can tell you I’m now going to do it ALL the time.
We took our time with the second course and were pretty excited about dessert: tiramisu. Koen returned again with two more beers: Pannepot Vintage 2016 Fisherman’s Ale and Préaris Quadrocinno. While neither is a stout nor a porter, if you’re interested in those flavors, both of these beers are for you. Koen picked them for their malty, coffee flavors. Jim drank the Préaris and I drank the Pannepot.
When it was time to pay, we approached the register and chatted with Koen. We told him how much we loved the meal and his pairings and asked him where else we should go. He wrote out a couple of recommendations: Le Trappiste for drinks and Pro Deo for dinner and handed them to us with a smile. I continued to tell him I really loved the first beers and he recommended an American sour called American Solera. It’s apparently a beer from Oklahoma City. So, American friends, be on the lookout for this one. Our Belgian friend says it’s amazing.
On our walk back to the hotel, we wandered down a canal (after a local man told us it was DEFINITELY the way to walk and one of the prettiest walks in all of Bruges), back toward the Burg and eventual market. It was peaceful, quiet, and stunning.
With the crisp air and our stomachs full, the walk through beautiful streets was perfect. Bruges, I think I’m in love. We couldn’t wait to wake up the next morning to explore even more…