Belgian food and drink takes center stage in Florida
What country loves beer and fries — and chocolate and waffles — more than the United States?
The culinary spectrum of Belgium, the small bilingual hybrid tucked between France and the Netherlands, has hidden in Florida under a broadly European, Continental or French rubric.
No longer. Just as Belgium broke into the World Cup quarterfinals, Belgian chefs have begun to put their best food forward, with a clear Belgian imprimatur.
With a love of meatballs, fries and cheese, Belgium is the gastropub of Europe, one reason Belgians and their admirers have dozens of restaurants in New York and Washington and a bakery chain, Le Pain Quotidien.
Belgian beer, of course, was already front and center — Belgium’s early brewing monks, the Trappists and their abbey fellows, farmhouse brewers and their descendants, make more than 1,000 distinct beers, from malty dubbels and berryflavored lambics to the tartest witbiers, saisons and sour ales.
In Florida, at least two groups of Belgians now fly their gastro-flag quite proudly.
Paul Buster started his Buster’s Bistro in downtown Sanford a year and a half ago. For munchies with baguettes, he serves all manner of French, Italian and German cheeses and specialty meats.
The beers, however, are all Belgian. He’s acquired 18 taps of Belgians on draft and 35 in bottles, according to his nephew Percy. They range up to 11% in alcohol and most sell for $6 to $8. Astonishingly, almost each of the more than 50 beers comes with its own specific glass, an elegantly branded tulip, goblet, mug or chalice, even flutes for champagne-style beers.
The variety of glassware enables each beer to be served at its optimum taste, aroma and head and is also meant “to show how much respect we have for these beers,’’ says Percy.
And they are wildly different — cherry krieks, aged old ales, enough to keep an American newbie sampling for weeks. Still, most gravitate toward the famous ancient monastery styles of dubbels and quadrupels — dark, heavy and sweet.
Florida’s newest Belgian is the sleek Bistro BE in downtown Miami, which has a menu of Belgian foods as longs its beer list. Founder Emmanuel Verschueren and his partners, all restaurant pros in Belgium, promote their native cuisine as having both French sophistication and bold German flavors.
While it serves mussels seven ways (including with lobster, green apples and Leffe beer), Bistro BE goes well beyond the national dish to serve rabbit stew, vegetable hutespot, duck and currywurst sausages and a garden of endive, asparagus and brussels sprouts. Look for beers from Hoegaarden and Lindemann’s to show up in sauces and eggy sabayons, sweet and savory.
Don’t worry that drinking Belgian betrays your favorite Florida craft beer brewers, for whom the country is a kind of spiritual home. Belgium’s library of styles is what they drink for inspiration.
Chalet Suzanne Shuttered
One of Florida’s oldest servings of Continental cuisine and a Golden Spoon Hall of Famer, Chalet Suzanne in Lake Wales, closed its menus (and landing strip) this summer. It was 83.
The Chalet was born in the 1920s as a golf and tennis dream of food giant James L. Kraft and the Hinshaw family. The Hinshaws took it over in 1931 as a small inn.
Long before Disney, the Chalet pioneered a storybook village of cottages and studios. It featured a landing strip for small planes, craft studios, the Swedish bar, a vineyard, a small lake for water-skiers, Oriental cruises and a cannery that made its classic creamed soups, consommés and aspics.
It was the rare place where locals and fly-in diners supped on favorites from another time, like lobster Newburg and cherries Romanov, Florida delicacies of broiled grapefruit and sauteed chicken livers, and an occasional modern fillip of escargot cappuccino.
While the fifth generation of the Hinshaws auctioned much of the memorabilia, the property and buildings await a new recipe.
Belgian Brew: A Primer
Dozens of brewing techniques and styles originated in Dutch-speaking Flanders and Francophone Wallonia in various colors and strengths. Many are now made by American craft brewers as well. Here are a few of the more distinctive.
- Champagne — Brew that undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle.
- Lambic — Fruity, made with berries (framboise), cherries (kriek) or peach (peche). Gueze is a blend of old and new lambics, which is further aged.
- Pale Ale — Not as dry as India Pale Ales.
- Oud Bruin or Flemish sour ale — More bitter, aged in wood casks.
- Saison — The original farmhouse beer, aged in bottle.
- Witbier — Made with wheat and barley; often spiced, hazy in the glass and sometimes served with lemon.