Waffle sandwiches shine at Bel 50

December 21, 2012 (CHICAGO)

The Hungry Hound says there's a new concept on the Near North Side taking the humble Belgian waffle and making it the star of a specialty sandwich menu.

Typically eaten for breakfast, many times coated in syrup or powdered sugar, the waffle is getting a reboot, thanks to a San Francisco-based chef who has made a thin, crispy, savory waffle the star of a new restaurant in Chicago, hoping to expand the brand well beyond one location.

Suspend, for a moment, your impressions of the humble waffle. Because at Bel 50, a new fast-casual sandwich concept debuting in Chicago, the familiar breakfast staple has displaced bread.

Part of the strategy was to reduce the amount of sugar.

"To make it more savory, let the yeast of the dough, or batter, really become the more prominent flavor; sort of like a sourdough bread situation, where we make a starter and then we make this fermented batter," said chef and co-owner Joey Altman.

The savory waffles are made fresh during service. They're thin, and best of all, crispier than what you're used to.

"Well this is a thinner waffle, and we make the heat really high -- as high as the waffle irons will go -- and then once the batter, which has butter in it, hits that waffle iron, it starts to almost pan-fry in the waffle iron," said Altman. "And we take that out and we set that on a rack, so it's not laying flat, so the steam doesn't get it soft again."

After a quick trip to the broiler, they're ready for a host of toppings and fillings. Fried chicken with a crunchy slaw, smoked salmon, set over chive crème fraiche and topped with red onions and crisp cucumbers.

Even pulled pork makes an appearance. Here it's with fresh avocado and cilantro.

"Free range chicken, all-natural beef. I mean, all that stuff that you're gonna get at a more high-end restaurant, except we're dressing it down to go into a sandwich," Altman said.

There are also sweets on the sandwich board, from Nutella to crème brulee. The latter features a sugar-torched custard with fresh berries, dusted with powdered sugar.

"You get that same great contrast of that burnt sugar crunch with the creaminess and then all wrapped in a warm waffle, and it's just really heaven," Altman said.

The restaurant is also open for brunch, and they do sell alcohol, so you can get your Bloody Mary or mimosa fix on the weekends.

Bel 50
738 N. Clark St.
(312) 496-3948

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