James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

How to Eat the Perfect Waffle. (Step One: Go to Belgium)

How to Eat the Perfect Waffle. (Step One: Go to Belgium)

Waffles in Ghent

If you saw the movie The Monuments Men, starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray, you saw the Ghent Altar Piece.  It’s officially known as “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb,” 12 panels adorning the inside of Saint Bavo Cathedral, and considered one of the world’s great art treasures.

The Ghent Altar Piece and my passion for World War history is what brought me to Belgium, but a girl’s gotta eat, and I knew of another treasure in Ghent that has earned global admiration.

The place is simply called Max, an otherwise generic European café on the edge of a great plaza with locals and tourists leisurely sipping coffee at outdoor tables. But it’s what everyone enjoys with their coffee at Max that’s famous. It is the Belgian waffle.

Max was Pierre “Max” Consael. Six generations of his family have kept this little establishment open since 1839, and guarded the secret recipe for this indulgent breakfast or brunch fare. However, in Ghent, a waffle at Max is a treat to be enjoyed anytime, day or night. Max’s perfect waffles have 20 squares, and they’re cooked on waffle irons nearly as old as the business itself.

The pastry so light and flaky that I struggled to keep it contained on my fork as it traveled the few inches from plate to mouth. Fortunately, I had a generous serving of freshly whipped-by-hand cream to hold it all together. Despite my best efforts, the white linen tablecloth, my blouse, and face were freckled with pastry flakes and powdered sugar.

These waffles are served at room temperature with powdered sugar and chocolate sauce or some fresh fruit. Don’t even think about putting something so brash as maple syrup on them. You might also enjoy an apple beignet served with ice cream, another specialty at Max.

In 1958, a member of the Max family traveled to Brussels for the World Expo to showcase their little family treasure.

Now, you can’t lift a fork in Brussels without some restaurant claiming theirs is the best waffle in all of Belgium. But after you’ve been to Ghent and enjoyed an afternoon respite of coffee and waffles covered with strawberries fresh from Flanders fields, you’ll know that everyone in Brussels is wrong.

Goudenleeuwplein 3
9000 Ghent, Belgium
9 a.m. – 5: 30 p.m. daily

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