Editor's note: Natalie Barrett experiences what it's like to dine out with her 3-year-old daughter.
Elle loves french toast and pancakes in the morning. Warm syrup, crunchy and soft texture. It’s the recipe for great days, so I knew that waffles would be an instant hit.
We went to Bruges Waffles and Frites in Sugar House (2314 S. Highland Drive) and found a cozy restaurant anchored in family recipes and Belgian traditions.
These traditions were immediately in the forefront as we entered the restaurant and Elle saw, in the corner by the lighted Coca-Cola machine, a statue of a small naked boy peeing into a bowl. Elle, who is potty training, kept staring at the statue, which required some explaining.
The owner, Pierre Vandamme, who is a native of Bruges in Belgium, explained that the statue is world famous.
“He’s a statue that you find in Brussels,” said Vandamme. “It is a huge tourist attraction. He has a museum with over 500 costumes. When President Bush came he had a cowboy hat and so they change him. But the story behind it we don’t really know. There are many different versions. I think it's more like the one where the king lost his son and they found him peeing along the road. It’s funny.”
Vandamme said that his customers love the statue and appreciate him staying true to his roots. “I was a little bit afraid it would offend people, but I don’t think people are offended.”
Elle and I had the popular machine gun sandwich, which contained lamb with Morrocan spices and when taken apart could pass to an unknowing toddler for a darker type of hot dog. Elle, however, was not fooled and spit it out.
In the corner of the small bistro is a television with cartoons and a shelf with a newspaper and books for the kids.
Bruges does not feature a kids menu but does allow parents to purchase waffles for only $3.25 each — a bargain for the type of waffles it serves.
The waffles are warm, crispy on the outside with sweet pearls that melt in your mouth.
“It’s a very complicated recipe,” said Vandamme. "You must do it right. I can’t say too much about it. There is a lot of copying. We’ve been copied by many others, and it’s OK.”
Vandamme imports his sugar from Belgium.
“It’s very dense sugar and a certain size,” he said. “... It has to be the right sugar, and it’s only made in Belgium.”
The frites, however, are not unique to the family.
Another popular draw to Bruges is its mayos, or fry sauces. While the fries may be unoriginal, the mayos take them to another level. Bruges creates more than 22 different types of sauces in-house and allows for take-out orders as well. They range from green to orange, hot to mild and include everything from basil to sour cream to onion to andalouse. There's just something about dipping that makes food more fun.
“We make everything including our sauces from scratch. We use fresh bay leaves, bell peppers,” Vandamme said. “It’s my recipes of course, and my employees are allowed to make it, but they have to sign something. We have to be careful, but they make all the things.”
Amidst our meal, we managed to spill the same cup twice all over the floor and table. Thank goodness they are wooden tables that allow you to clean up spills without causing a scene. Vandamme was happy to help with the cleanup and pitched in with his own rag.
As he was mopping up our table, he explained that he has four children of his own and understands what it’s like to bring children into the restaurant industry.
“I was a stay-at-home dad for two years because I was fired from being a pilot and had to reinvent myself,” Vandamme said. His smile was very friendly, and Elle loved his accent. The waffles were a hit, and we’ll be back for more.
Vandamme has created a restaurant that is both family-friendly and a hit in the community.
“We wanted to make it very family-friendly, and so I’m not interested in introducing beer and alcohol and we want to be like treat dessert," Vandamme said.