My summer fling with the Liege waffle four years ago was a sweet affair. Dense and chewy with a thin sugar crust, the waffle effortlessly colonized breakfast, lunch and dinner during my week in Brussels. Young and naïve, I waved off my parents' suggestions that I explore Belgium's other culinary offerings: moules-frites! waterzooi! stoemp! Their recommendations soon soured into pleas, then urges, that I sample a single, perfectly crisped fry or a pungent curl of Limburger or a Speculoos biscuit soaked in coffee. Their efforts were in vain: I was devoted to the Liege waffle, served hot in a fold of wax paper.
Since then, my palate has evolved, along with my understanding of Belgian cuisine. I no longer insist that the Liege waffle—however alluring in its unfussiness and understated beauty—defines the Belgian dining experience. In fact, I have grown to acknowledge and appreciate the charm of mussels-and-fries and the sturdy comfort of stoemp.
Located in South Park just north of the corner of Juniper and 30th streets, Brabant Bar & Café (2310 30th St.), calls itself "San Diego's only traditional Belgian pub." It opened in late 2013 and dishes out hearty fare, like breaded, deep-fried hard-boiled eggs wrapped in sausage and pretzel-bun sandwiches stuffed with grilled rabbit. Belgian-style beers—some from Belgium, others brewed here—nicely complement the robust menu items.
The building façade is rather unsightly: Boxy and beige, it sets a tone that instantly shifts when you enter. Wooden booths, tables and chairs stir up a relaxed and intimate atmosphere substantiated by more subtle aesthetic touches: porcelain dishes and rustic, cast-iron serving pots and thick candles placed on each table.
Appropriately, Brussels sprouts—first cultivated in Brussels—appear on the menu. In the appetizer, the twice-fried mini cabbages are combined with pancetta, toasted pecans, brown sugar and sea salt, creating a deeply flavorful dish that would taste even better if it toned down its saltiness. The chewy cubes of pancetta lend the Brussels sprouts a rich flavor, but the sprinkling of sea salt offsets the balance.
The same can be said for the white-bean cassoulet, which is served alongside rabbit-leg confit and was one of Brabant's chalkboard specials the day I visited. Pancetta makes a second appearance in the thick, stewy blend of beans, carrots and celery. The cassoulet was too salty, though, which is unfortunate, because the rabbit-leg confit was exquisite: The crunchily crisped skin gave way to tender, juicy meat.
Probably the least authentic Belgian dish on the menu, the vegetarian burger, was nevertheless the most resplendent: A dense fritter of potato, mushroom, cannellini beans, carrot, white onion, spring onion, sage, celery seed and flaxseed gets stuffed in a pillowy pretzel bun and served with a side of fries. Gruyere cheese and house ketchup completed the concoction, which was easily one of the most satisfying vegetarian burgers I've ever tasted.
In fact, I relished Brabant's vegetarian burger so much that I forewent the dessert section, which, unsurprisingly, featured several mouthwatering iterations of my once-beloved Liege waffle.