You guys, I’m torn here. On one hand, I genuinely like Belga Cafe. On the other hand, I’m unimpressed by Belga. Here’s the thing – whenever you say “I’m going to Belga” to someone they all oooh and ahhh. It’s got a fantastic reputation, and some of the food lives up to that reputation. But some of the food is worse than what I’d find on the line at the local Holiday Inn breakfast buffet. It’s a conundrum. But let me explain…
Belga Cafe is situated on 8th Street in the heart of Barracks Row. It’s a great location with foot traffic from Eastern Market and the surrounding neighborhoods and shops. Belga has a small but cozy patio, the outdoor seating complete with table cloths, and a slightly cramped long interior dining room. The kitchen is quasi-open, and the bar is usually full of diners. The place has a neighborhood feel, though I would say it’s known throughout the city as a brunch destination. And unfortunately, brunch is where I get tripped up with Belga.
I’ve had a few meals at Belga, and I wind up liking the dinner better than the brunch. So let’s talk about the bad first, then we’ll get to the good. Belga is DC’s Belgian eat place, led at the helm by Belgium native Chef Bart Vandaele. Therefore, they serve waffles. Not the fat, fluffy kind of waffles, but the thinner more manageable kind. They’re also the kind that can get cold quickly, which mine did. The breakfast waffle is served with a light whip cream and fruit. The fruit was fresh, which I was pleased with, since fruit at brunch can be hit or miss. But you know what the disaster of my brunch was? Bacon. Now, let me remind you that I have a special, deep relationship with bacon. I love bacon. What Belga passes as bacon is a horrendous insult to my personal affection of this normally wonderful and satisfying food. Ya’ll, what Belga serves is MICROWAVE *STYLE (Edit 10/14)* BACON. (I’ll give you a moment to digest that news.) (Take a deep breath.) (And let’s move forward now.) Belga serves these narsty little strips of thinly sliced bacon that is *like (Edit 10/14)* the kind you’d buy at Giant and nuke for ten seconds. THAT HURTS ME RIGHT IN MY BRUNCH SPOT. Belga’s bacon is greasy, and a few pieces of stuck-together microwave *style (Edit: 10/14)* bacon come out on a little square plate and sit there in pools of grease and the Teenage Jesus cries.
But enough of that. Don’t order the bacon. There, you’ve been warned. What you DO want to order are the potato cubes. Those make me rull happy. Crispy little hashbrowns with just the right seasoning, these are what breakfast food should be. It *almostsortofnotreallyatall* makes up for the tragedy that is Belga’s bacon. So brunch. I mean, it’s fine. The fruit is good, the waffle can get cold, the bacon sucks, and the hashbrowns are God’s gift to breakfast. But dinner? Well, dinner is an entirely other story at Belga. A much better story.
Dinner, my friends, is served with beer. And Belga? Well, Belga KNOWS beer. Personally. Belga also knows great sandwiches, fries with a trio of dipping sauces, fresh salads and excellent appetizers. The beer list is huge, and full of happiness. I love lambics and Belga offers a few. The staff also knows the beer selection well, and can make good recommendations.
You know what I love about Belga, now that we’re past the bacon upset? I love the way Vandale embraces cheese. There’s cheese all over that menu, in sandwiches, in salads, fried, baked, any way you want it. There’s cheese. The 4 KAZEN KROKETTEN (Two croquettes of “four cheeses” with a frisee-bacon salad and balsamic dressing) is crispy and delicious. (Watch out though, the bacon is back! Ah!). Belga is also known for their frites which are served in a cone and come with a trio of good dipping sauces. I’ve heard great things about the mussels. I’ve had a salad there that made it as one of my salads I ate in September.
The service is hit or miss. You can get a waiter that is knowledgeable, attentive, friendly and one step ahead of you, or you can get a waiter that lets your coffee cup run empty and cold. Even the hostesses are hit or miss, I’ve talked with really friendly ones and curt, rude ones. That’s the problem with Belga – it’s inconsistent. When it’s good, it’s very good. When it’s bad, it’s microwave bacon bad. Do you see my conundrum now?
So there we have it. Belga. If you’re looking to go for dinner (which I recommend!) Friday, October 23rd and Saturday the 24th are good days to check it out. In honor of their fifth anniversary, Belga Cafe serves the original menu from five years ago with the same pricing from 2004. For more fifth anniversary celebration events, check out the Belga Web site.