Be honest. When someone mentions Belgian food you think of those thick waffles served with gobs of whipped cream and maybe a few strawberries swimming in mysterious pink gel, don’t you? I did until I set foot in Leopold Restaurant in Chicago’s West Town Neighborhood.
On my first visit to Leopold, when I stepped off busy Chicago Avenue on a hot, sunny day and entered the cool elegance of the restaurant, the contrast was surprising. Leopold’s interior is dim, subdued, cool and welcoming. Comfortable chairs upholstered with white leather and rustic chandeliers help give Leopold a look that is clean and elegant. The restaurant is long and narrow; you walk past the front dining area to get to the long bar that anchors space in the center of the restaurant,between front and rear dining areas. The bar’s central location gives eaters there a great view of the nattily dressed patrons dining at the tables, as well as what is going on throughout the restaurant. Of course, given my penchant for eating at the bar, that is where my father and I sat for our meal.
Leopold describes itself as a purveyor of “Belgian Inspired” cuisine. I can’t tell you what that means given that I’ve never been to Belgium, nor have I ever had food that claims to be real Belgian food. However, I can tell you that I’m totally up for what the restaurant serves (authentic Belgian or not) and the menu is great for sharing at the bar.
My dad and I started out with a selection of house made charcuterie and cheeses that included pork confit, a rabbit and pork terrine, a Dunbarton Blue cheese and a Smoked Toussaint cheese. All was delicious, and I still think about the creamy, rich confit. Like in many restaurants these days, not enough bread came with our meats and cheeses, but we had no trouble getting more.
Next up were the Moules and Frites, or as I would call them, mussels and fries. Two preparations were offered and we ordered the more traditional white wine with herbs option. The mussels came steaming hot along with a healthy serving of crispy fries and a ramekin of dill aioli. I can’t say which I liked more, the mussels, the fries or the aioli, but all together they were a great combination of flavors and textures.
One of the things I like about eating at the bar is that I don’t feel compelled to order the full gamut of appetizer, entree and dessert. So, after mussels we moved right on to dessert. And you guessed it, we ordered the Belgian waffle. This was no foam rubber waffle; it was crispy on the outside, warm and fluffy on the inside and sandwiched between was Black Dog’s salted peanut ice cream. Once you’ve had Leopold’s Belgian waffle, you won’t go back to a pale imitation.
One of the things I enjoy about eating at the bar is that often you’ve got a bartender, sometimes two, practically at your fingertips. Leopold’s bar staff is extremely knowledgeable about the food and especially the extensive selection of beer, wine and cocktails served at the restaurant. And they exude a low key style just like the restaurant does.
Should I Stay (Home) or Should I Go
Especially if your idea of Belgian food is a waffle, go to Leopold and expand your horizons. Leopold is a great spot for eating at the bar; it is comfortable, elegant, and the menu is well suited for sharing. It’s not the cheapest place to go for a mussels and fries, but it’s a great choice for a date or special occasion.
Leopold is located at 1450 West Chicago in the Westown neighborhood of Chicago.