Midday is crunch time at Word HQ, which means we’ve built up a considerable knowledge bank of places we can call upon for an immediate fix of culinary double-deckers. Spanning our customary urban triangle of Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels, these are the places you’ll find us queuing up round about 12h10.
Photography Veerle Frissen
The minute you step into Mongkhton Tangton’s culinary corner store, you get the sense of having travelled back in time, to a place where good people, good tunes (you’d be forgiven for thinking that Monk or Miles David are resident musicians) and good home-cooked food prevailed. A former grocery store, Mong took the place over in 2001 and has since turned it a lunchtime must for the neighbourhood’s lawyers, Solvay professors, gallerists and model agents (Dominique Models has its offices right around the corner). Serving up a mix of exquisite sandwiches (all of them layered with his home-made guacamole) and dishes of the day (which usually consist of either chicken curry or lemongrass chicken ‘boulettes’), it is his no-frills, high-quality produce (he manages to source the freshest and biggest of basil leaves, the best ciabatta breads and a near-perfect parma ham nearly exclusively from the neighbourhood) that make him stand out. That, and his now-customary ‘excellent après-midi’ tagline. You might have noticed, but just in case it wasn’t clear: we absolutely revere Mong’s food, and absolutely love him. No, really, our lunchtimes would be that much more boring if it wasn’t for him.
Must tries: Parma ham, mozzarella, basil leaves and guacamole on slightly toasted ciabatta bread
Rue Keyenveld 56 Keienveldstraat
Au pays des merveilles
It is fair to say that Alice’s bagel boutique has taken Brussels by storm. Pretty much solely responsible for bringing the hollow bread bun to the city, the former office worker popped onto the scene at the right place, and at the right time. Her first shop, located in St Gilles / Sint Gillis, quickly became a hit with the neighbourhood’s American, Australian and Jewish communities as well as with the local creative cognoscenti (our designers, pleaseletmedesign, were the ones to initially bring her to our attention). Somewhat of an accidental trend-setter (“I had no idea bagels would become trendy”), her first joint proved such a success that she opened a second outpost in the Rue de Flandre / Vlaamsesteenweg just before the summer. With that end of the city going through somewhat of a retail renaissance, something tells us she’s, once again, on to something big. As big, plentiful and overflowing as the bagels she serves up.
Must tries: The chicken cheddar bagel
Avenue Jean Volders 42 Jean Volderslaan
Rue de Flandres 92 Vlaamsesteenweg
If there ever was a culinary institution that epitomizes downtown cool, Au Suisse is it. Opened by restaurateur Mrs Togni in 1873, its first outpost was in the Rue des Bouchers / Beenhouwersstraat, where she specialised in Swiss produce (she was the first to bring Emmental cheese to the country). In 1919, Au Suisse was moved to its current location on Boulevard Anspach / Anspachlaan, a splendid, high-end snack house with two end-to-end counters (one where the sandwich-making takes place, the other where the neighbourhood’s lunchers can enjoy their sandwiches). Beyond the place’s aura, it really is its prepping staff that lends it its character. Indeed, there’s nothing like a row of perfectly uniformed ladies, chit-chatting to infinity, dipping into various different bowls of fresh produce, preparing your every sandwiched desire in near-robotic fervor. The only downside? A queue that sometimes can stretch out onto the sidewalk, although what better testament to quality is there than hordes of hungry office workers patiently waiting for their turn?
Must tries: remoulade
Boulevard Anspach 73-75 Anspachlaan
Probably the only place in Brussels where you’ll find Raas Malai next to a Crème brulée or Samosas stacked next to with Zakouskis and Boreks, Ethnic Foods lives up to its name and aim to “combine the whole world in one’s mouth”. The sandwiches, served in homemade sundried tomatoes, black olives or pecan nuts and raisin bread, are to die for and worth every single cent of the hefty €5 price tag. Well set on keeping the menu exciting, Rahim and Alban offer a new concoction each week, labeled the “sandwich unique”. Popular with the neighbourhood’s office workers, Parliament and Senate employees, it’s the take-away joint those fed up with sandwiches filled with 80% of mayonnaise had been waiting for.
Must tries: Tandoori Chicken sandwich in a yoghurt sauce with herbs and spices
Rue de la Croix de Fer 14 Ijzerenkruisstraat 1000 Brussels
Ra Kitchen is everything you expect it to be, given its association to the fashion store. A quaint and quiet culinary universe of coolness, it is at times pared-down (bare light bulbs hanging down from the ceiling), at times opulent (a Persian rug, a cute display of China porcelain, and exquisite stonewashed floor tiles), and always cozy (blankets lie about should you get frisky). Serving up an eclectic mix of food (everything from soups, sandwiches and wraps to wantons, tempuras and salads) and beverages (shakes, smoothies and juices), the kitchen-facing counter means you even get to chit-chat to the chef whilst he’s preparing your dish if you feel like it. Alternatively, just pick something to read from its ‘free printed matter’ section, and give in to the good vibes of the in-house playlist (when we visited, a mix of doo-wop and 60s R&B was getting us all lively).
Antwerp’s answer to Brussels’ Café Belga, Berlin has quickly become an institution amongst the locals. A wood-paneled, high-ceilinged brasserie-type café, its rustic-industrial interiors (massive aluminum air-vents jostle for air-space with the café’s wooden ceilings) attract the kind of customers who like their weekend brunch uplifted by a glass of champagne – we spotted no less than four when we visited on a recent Saturday morning. Its strategic location in the heart of the city’s fashion district means it is the place to come to before setting off on a major spending spree. Indeed, Berlin’s basic breakfast (a slightly toasted bread bun, a slice of cheese, butter, a croissant, some strawberry jam and your choice of tea or coffee) as well as its amazing cheeseburger gives you just the kick you need before hitting the stores.
Kleine markt, 1
The Funky Soul Potato
We had walked past The Funkly Soul Potato a number of times, but it really only was when we asked our readers for snack suggestions in town that we took a closer look, and stepped inside. Indeed, such was the fervor with which one certain reader urged us to go have a bite there (Us: “what’s your favourite lunch time spot?”, reader: “The Funky Soul Potato, the Carne Asada Potato is the stuff dreams are made of. Very good for hangovers”), our mouths were already watering with interest the minute we clicked on the picture she sent us. A baked potato stacked with goodies (everything from beans to what can only be described as a feisty take on chili con carne) and supplemented by a generous salad, you’d be surprised how filling a potato can be. And although the interiors could be a little more inviting and re-invigorating, the food on offer actually takes care of that just fine.
Simon Says is the first port of call for our distribution team as soon as they arrive in Ghent. A laid-back kind of place with great-looking staff, good-tasting food and beverages (their coffee is to die for, although that might be because of the little shapes and figurines they patiently outline in the frothy milk) and a good-feel vibe, the café-come-bed-and-breakfast is run by Simon and Christopher, who initially came to Ghent to work in theater (“there are more opportunities here than in the UK”). A cozy and intimate eatery with somewhat of a sunny inclination (their summer terrace fills up in no time), it is, to us, the perfect spot for Sunday brunch: a good selection of magazines, a proper playlist (recently, the podcast from World Service broadcasted on Urgent.fm could be heard) and, above all, a service that comes with a smile.
Must tries: the croquet monsieur
Our favourite Ghent dig for people-watching, Pain Perdu is a rustic, wood-floored good food joint located bang in the middle of the city’s burgeoning Walpoortstraat. Attracting a heady mix of yummy mummies, shoppers and other local independent retailers, it is somewhat of an oasis of calm in what is quickly becoming one of the city’s busiest streets. Current owner Bruno Vincke, a former fashion student, took over in 2007 at a mere 20 years of age with the aim of modernizing the eatery and giving it somewhat of a focused purpose: “I wanted to give the people honest food, based upon good produce”. Renowned for its selection of fine ingredients (he stocks different mouth-watering spreads made locally by the owner of a bed & breakfast), he’s gone as far as developing a special blend of breakfast coffee you’ll only be able to find at Pain Perdu. And don’t let the place’s similarities with another common-tabled bakery chain fool you, Pain Perdu is nothing like it.
Walpoortstraat 9 000 Gent
Although 80% of Tasty’s menu is vegetarian and his customers definitely look the part, founder Steve Van Houtte is keen for his burger joint not to be pigeon-holed. A colourful eatery situated at the beginning of Walpoortstraat, Tasty is a favourite amongst students and the neighbourhood’s shop keepers. The service is incredibly down-to-earth, with orders taken at the counter and served at table, by Steve himself most of the time. The interior is roomy (although the colour palette could have leaned a little less on the citrus greens and bright yellows) and is extended by a quaint inside court which the regulars obviously know to lay their claim to early on in their lunchtime. With plans to open up shop in Liege and, hopefully, Antwerp very soon, Tasty’s Popei burger (its best seller) will soon be coming to a neighbourhood near you.
Hoogpoort 1 & Walpoortstraat 38
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