By Sarah Klose
Koen, my Belgian boyfriend, said he didn’t notice that I gained twelve kilos (almost twenty pounds) while living in Belgium. I moved to Leuven, a small medieval college town with cobblestone streets, when I was in my twenties. True, I gained the first ten pounds before I met Koen, but perhaps he was being diplomatic about the other ten.
My love affair with Belgian food began with the country’s famous waffles, which I ordered topped with vanilla ice cream and fresh peaches circled with whipped cream. At Erasmus restaurant, I often met up with friends to dine on steak with frites. We sat on the patio and washed our food down with Belgian beer—Stella Artois, Duvel, Hoegaarden Witbier. While walking back to my one-room apartment, I passed Leonidas. Their chocolates were another temptation—especially Manon, a coffee buttercream candy with praline filling, topped with a hazelnut and enrobed in white chocolate. Overwhelmed by the delightful food, I practically became Augustus Gloop, the chubby boy who drank from Willy Wonka’s chocolate river and fell in.
While living in bilingual Belgium, I resided in the Flemish-speaking part of the country, and was aware of the language and political clash between the French-speaking Walloons (about forty percent of the population) and the Dutch-speaking Flemish (about sixty percent of the population). In fact, last month, the new Miss Belgium was booed when she couldn’t answer a beauty-contest question in Flemish.
Baladoche, a cafe in Lakeview, features Liege waffles from the French-speaking region. Smaller and crunchier than the waffles I was accustomed to, they are called Belgian zucker waffles. Owner Terry Mootoo explains that German customers often try to correct him, saying “There’s no umlaut in ‘zucker.’ And I have to tell them that’s not an umlaut, it’s waffle squares.”
The waffle dough—“Not batter, not batter, dough,” Mootoo corrects me—contains butter, flour, sugar, salt and minimal eggs. It is made in large quantities and flash-frozen. Later, it is thawed, proofed and baked in individual servings in a waffle iron. The secret to Baladoche’s waffles is pearl sugar. When the dough is cooked, the vanilla-infused sugar chips explode, permeating the waffle like warm chocolate chips.
Cooked waffles can be topped with cinnamon sugar, sprinkles, chocolate sauce, jams or whipped cream. Plain waffles cost $4.59, and toppings cost an additional $0.92 or $1.84 each. The cafe offers Italian gelato too, either in a cup or as a waffle topping.
An engineer by trade, Mootoo can bend your ear about esters, emulsions and filtration systems. Esters, which give flavor to the Galler chocolates he carries, can evaporate in heat and humidity. Solid fillings, like hazelnut and coffee, keep longer than liquid fillings, like raspberry and Grand Marnier. A white film on chocolate is not a good sign—it means it is going in and out of emulsion. Mootoo stores his Galler chocolate at fifty-nine-to-seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit, and strictly adheres to expiration dates. The Chicago water for his cappuccinos and lattes goes through reverse osmosis via a large tank in the shop. “Even Starbucks doesn’t do this,” he says. “They just use filtered water.”
The well-traveled Mootoo came up with the name Baladoche while drinking Malibu rum and pineapple juice in Alaska and leafing through travel books. Bala is from the root of the Brazilian Portugese word for “tasty,” and doche is a variation of the Spanish and Italian words for “sweet.” The Illy coffee beans for the espresso, Parmalat milk for the lattes, Klop Klop milk for the whipped cream and gelato ingredients from Torino are all imported from Italy. The waffle recipe, Galler chocolates and SPA sparkling water are from Belgium.
When I lived in Belgium, my beverage of choice was SPA sparkling water—or one of the country’s 1,000 different beers. I moved there to study, and returned with an international business degree and an appreciation of Belgian beverages and cuisine.
Koen and I split up, but he did come to visit me a couple of years after I moved back to Chicago. I taught him to appreciate deep-dish pizza and our great skyline. Baladoche has only been open for fifteen months, so I didn’t get to take him there. I don’t think he would have gone with me though, even if it had been open back then,because he is Flemish, and Baladoche’s waffles originated in the French part of Belgium. For Koen, it would be like a Cubs fan saying they like the White Sox, too. It’s funny though, because that won’t stop me from frequenting Baladoche and splurging on a delicious Nutella-topped sugar waffle.
And yes, I have been known to attend a White Sox game or two.
Baladoche, 2905 North Clark, (773)880-5090.