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By Edwin Goei
For a city that can’t agree on a common language, the people of Brussels are united in pride on the waffle, their defining regional foodstuff. To them, a proper waffle is what a thin-crust pizza is to a New Yorker. Recently, the president of Brussels’ Tourism Bureau suggested dousing the city’s aging, notoriously stinky subway stations with a waffle-scented perfume.
And what a scent it is. I had a waffle in Brussels once. I didn’t see the waffle vendor so much as I smelled the sweet aroma wafting from her cart on a cobblestone courtyard, where people sat out in the sun to sip beer in the middle of the afternoon. When I ordered, the woman poured the batter from a jug and crisped it to brownness on ancient equipment. A flurry of powdered sugar and a thin wrapper of paper later, I ate the hot, crispy, light-as-foam treat there on the street with my hands.
The new Bruxie in Orange makes a waffle similar, if not identical, to the one etched in my memory. The airy tic-tac-toe-patterned honeycomb, delicate as spun sugar and cut into quarter wedges from a bigger circle, is just as crisp, just as ethereal, even if the thimble of maple syrup it’s served with peddles to our American expectations on what must go with a waffle. But unlike our waffles, which too often come from little more than repurposed Bisquick pancake mix, Bruxie produces its own proprietary yeast-leavened batter. It’s what partners Dean Simon, Philippe Caupain and Kelly Mullarney made their name in prior to opening Bruxie. They sold their blend to hotels and cruise lines before realizing there was a market for a bona-fide waffle stand.
As you might have heard by now, Bruxie has gone beyond waffles as streetside treats or breakfast fodder and already has plans to expand. At the months-old store—an outdoor-seating-only venue reclaimed from an old Dairy Treet near the Chapman University campus—droves come to eat the waffle as bread for sandwiches, folded like a taco, a platform for the savory as well as the sweet. The concept isn’t revolutionary. On the East Coast, Dunkin’ Donuts continues to market its breakfast waffle sandwich as an answer to the McGriddle. On the West Coast, Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles has proven the culinary kismet of putting waffles, syrup and fried chicken together on a plate. But with its waffles and the care taken in the fillings, Bruxie has managed to transcend the gimmickry of its concept.
Breading on the fried chicken breast actually crackled like Pop Rocks between my teeth—this despite what should’ve been a dampening swipe of the chili-honey glaze slathered on the surface. The honey’s sweetness turns out to be as essential to the sandwich as the lightly dressed coleslaw. But the burger it makes is even better. It’s a revelation even without the waffle. The thick, unctuous beef patty—cooked to order to a pink center, with melted Cheddar, tomato, lettuce, mayo and pickle—could elevate even Wonder Bread to high art. Eaten with the crystalline crunch of the waffle fries, this is a combo meal good enough to trump its own irony.
Some fillings work better than others between the waffle fold. The bacon, egg and Cheddar seem second nature, and the fleetingly thin slices of prosciutto and Gruyère are matched by the waffle’s own lightness. The smoked salmon and dill cream cheese feel homesick for a bagel, however, and the sun-dried tomato and goat cheese ache for a better life as a panini, partnered with butter-soaked slices of sourdough bread. The sweet options, however, can do no wrong. One bursts with luscious berries and lemon creme. The S’mores—made of crispy, crumbled graham crackers mixed with melted marshmallows and chocolate—are ingenious and patentable. A Japanese-inspired filling of azuki (red bean) paste tastes weird but endearing, and it’s always nice to discover that crepes aren’t the only vessel with which to consume bananas and Nutella.
But a warning: Due to the tenuous nature of the waffles’ texture, only order what you can eat within the span of five minutes. The moisture content of the filling you choose, the current ambient humidity, God’s will and your own hesitation will result in limpness somewhere around minute six. I heard one of the owners politely disagree with a customer who suggested they take phone orders. Can’t do it, he replied, it’ll be damp by the time you get here. Bruxie does make a sturdier stock of waffle called the Liège. It’s available as is, not subject to be folded since it is thick and square instead of thin and round. Usually eaten plain or dipped in Nutella, the Liège is as dense as cake and more filling than 10 of the Brussels-style.
And, of course, they do waffle cones, filled with frozen custard, a Wisconsin-imported concoction so creamy and thick it defies Newton’s laws. The custard can also be dropped into a glass of sugar-based soda for a wholesome float perfect for the quaint Americana of Old Towne Orange—a community that has already embraced Bruxie as its own, just as Brussels has its waffle.
Bruxie, 292 N. Glassell St., Orange, (888) 927-8943; www.bruxie.com. Open daily, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sandwiches, $4.50-$7.50.
This review appeared in print as "Euro-Smash: The waffles are Belgian at Bruxie, but the stuffing is pure Americana."