Last Updated on October 9, 2023
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
By Jim Ferri
In Brussels, food can be a problem.
Don’t misunderstand – it has nothing to do with the food’s preparation or taste. It’s just that there’s just so damn much of it.
Go to Brussels, and you’ll find there is always food around you. It’s like no other place in the world. It’s not the place to go if you want to stick to your diet.
Starting Our Weekend: Cafés, Antiques, and Belgian Chocolates
Visiting Brussels on a long weekend, my wife, Marjorie, and I made our first stop at the Place du Grand Sablon when we were there on a long weekend. It’s a beautiful little square flush with cafés. In fact, the entire square is nothing but cafés, antique stores, and chocolate shops. Luckily, we were interested in all three, but the Belgian chocolate shops were the first to draw us in.
Rating Belgian chocolate makers and chocolatiers is a very subjective thing. But a few people we met had rated Pierre Marcolini Chocolates (with two shops on Grand Sablon) as their favorite. We headed straight for it.
In it, we found a chocolate shop unlike any I have seen elsewhere. It had some incredible items…chocolate walnut cakes, Napoleons, all sorts of things. There is even a counter to sit at and enjoy your purchase.
Marcolini has several shops scattered about Brussels. At this store’s entrance is a large glass cylinder, perhaps 4 feet tall, filled with cocoa beans. I leaned over it and inhaled the aroma, getting a chocolate infusion as I never had before.
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On the second floor, you can put together your own boxes. It’s a great idea. In fact, it’s a delicious and aromatic piece of marketing. For the chocolate-loving traveler, they also have packages with each piece labeled with the bean’s country of origin. Other top-rated Belgian chocolate manufacturers on Sablon include the highly rated Neuhaus and Godiva. We visited them all.
Brussels Beyond Chocolate
Our Brussels food foray wasn’t just about Belgian chocolates, however. One afternoon, while walking along Rue de la Madeleine, we visited the Belgian Frites shop (Rue de la Madeleine 1-3, Brussels).
We were attracted to it when we saw they served frites from a large sidewalk window. And since we couldn’t believe the long line waiting on the sidewalk, we had to get in line. After a few minutes of wait, we were munching on frites fresher and better than those we’ve had at fast-food places anywhere in the world.
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Belgian waffles are another signature food you’ll find in unexpected places throughout Brussels. They’re in restaurants, of course, but they’re also served from sidewalk windows and even vans. And they come covered with everything you could ever want – chocolate, whipped cream, strawberries, etc.
As we walked about daily, I saw several little Volkswagen vans around the city, parked by the curb selling “warme watels.” I was tempted but never bought one, even though I was always drawn closer by the aroma of the waffles.
Drawn In By Les Brigittines
But this trip wasn’t just about chocolates and street food. We also were looking forward to trying a variety of Belgian restaurants.
Looking for more food to sample in Brussels, one evening, we went to Les Brigittines (9Pl. de la Chapelle 5, 1000 Bruxelles), a popular local restaurant. The chef produces exceptionally inventive Brussels dishes that he pairs with beer, although you can have wine. We stuck with the chef’s suggestions and had three different kinds of beer with the meal he prepared.
His main course, a Zenne Pot, was accompanied by a sour-tasting beer that melded well with the food. Tasting it by itself, however, we found it awful, and the chef told us we couldn’t drink that beer by itself.
Chez Lyons for Mussels in Brussels
Another evening, we went to the restaurant Chez Lyons (Rue des Bouchers 18, 1000 Bruxelles) continuing our search for more Brussels food. Although once lined with butchers – hence the name of the street – the street is now lined with restaurants, one after another.
Mussels in Brussels may be popular, but at Chez Leon they go beyond mere popularity. They are the stars of the show. As you walk through the front door, the white-tiled kitchen seems chaotic with numerous chefs and wait staff scurrying about. Pick a seat near the kitchen, and you’ll see pots of mussels rushed out every few minutes.
It seemed odd until we found out just how large the place is – there is seating on multiple floors in 9 houses joined together. Our waiter told us that they serve approximately 400,000 people a year, and serve a ton of mussels – that’s 2,200+ pounds of the mollusks – every day.
The number of mussel dishes on the menu is bewildering, although there are many other items as well. I ordered rabbit, which was very good, and Marjorie ordered the mussels, which were exceptional. I guess they would have to be to attract almost a half-million patrons a year. I’ve never liked mussels but found a taste of hers delicious, much like Brussels itself.
Carnivore Heaven at Cospaia
Continuing our search for great Brussels food, another night, we went to the upscale restaurant Cospaia.(Rue Capitaine Crespel 1, 1050 Bruxelles), where we ordered a duck and a beef filet. Too often, I’ve found that European chefs destroy what should be a good steak, but this time, it was done to perfection. The same was true for Marjorie’s duck, which was too large for her to finish. The wines by the glass were excellent also.
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Walking about the city, we also found numerous gourmet food shops. We also found two large festivals where food and beer were the focus, things close to many Belgian’s hearts. Although, unfortunately, there’s none in Brussels, in several European cities, you’ll find excellent food markets where you can also dine.
Belgium, by the way, has an incredible number of breweries since beer to a Belgian is as wine is to a Frenchman. In fact, little Belgium produces more than 1,100 different kinds of beer, more than any other country in the world.
It seems like a perfect subject for sampling on my next visit.