[Sidebar] April 13 - 20, 2000
[Food Reviews]
| by cuisine | by location | by restaurant | hot links | previous reviews | reviews |

Van Ghent

A Flemish find

by Johnettte Rodriguez

7A Commerce St., Westerly, 348-6026
Open Wed-Fri, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.;
Sat, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Sun, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
No credit cards
No handicapped access

Van Ghent, subtitled "Sandwiches 'n' Stuff," is a real find, in all senses of the word. Located in a former stable-turned commercial mini-strip, across a busy one-way street from the Westerly Sun and behind a gas station, the restaurant requires some visitors to make two or three circles it can be spotted. But don't give up -- it's worth the quest.

Van Ghent is a charming Flemish cafe, whose owner/cooks, Belgian immigrants Rosita and Roland Guiliams, are from, you guessed it, Ghent. There are many photos of their home city, which was a significant trade center during the Middle Ages, and a large painting near the sunny front window, which holds a portion of Roland's cacti and orchid collection, of Ghent's main market square as it looked in 1763.

The soft yellow walls, the cheery blue and yellow tablecloths, the dark green wrought-iron chairs, the silver-painted radiator mounted four feet up on the wall, the white tin ceiling and even the lace curtain -- all this transports you to an unassuming bistro hidden on a twisting Ghentian side street.

The food is lovingly prepared and presented, with soft, fresh-baked whole-wheat buns; salads sparkling with color and verve; soups and stews simmered with Belgian beer in their broth; crepes with Belgian chocolate chips; and, of course, thick, eggy Belgian waffles. In addition to a half-dozen Flemish specialties and a dozen sandwiches, including the van Eyck (with fresh mozzarella and prosciutto) and the Breugel (with boursin and prosciutto), there are blackboard specials for both breakfast and lunch.

Wanting to sample a bit from all parts of the menu, we started with soup and worked our way to waffles. Rosita explained that the green pea soup ($2.50 a bowl) was made the traditional Flemish way, with the four vegetables of potatoes, carrots, leeks and celery giving a hearty underpinning to the peas. It was delicate and delicious.

Bill was curious about the Vlasmarkt chili ($2.50) which, according to the menu, originated at the Cokabera Cafe in Ghent. A generous portion of beef and beans was topped by cheese and herbs and surrounded by a salad dressed with an alluring tang, which we concluded was a dollop of Tierentyn, a hot Flemish mustard also used on some of the sandwiches.

For my second course, I chose the van Ghent equivalent of an Egg McMuffin, a croque madam ($3.95). A croque monsieur is like a grilled cheese with ham. The madam adds a fried egg for her hat. I wanted to leave out the ham, and Rosita suggested tomato as a substitute. It was great comfort food, and far less greasy than most grilled cheese sandwiches. The accompanying red cabbage slaw was yummy, with a thin, sweet dressing, and, again, the garnish colors were so inviting: a red cabbage leaf with orange carrots, pale green sprouts and the feathered bottom of a scallion.

To follow his chili, Bill decided on the vol au vent ($7.95). Not topped with the windy pastry of its name but served with small white buns, this was a tasty stew of picked-from-the-bone chicken in a lemony broth, not the heavier cream sauce of its origins. The mushrooms that were supposed to be in the dish were curiously absent, and Rosita explained that since most people pushed them to the side, they'd stopped putting them in.

Disappointed but undaunted, Bill ordered a take-out serving of Flemish "stovery" ($8.95), a close cousin to a carbonnade. This version was a bit less sweet, but had a rich beer taste to the sauce that coated the beef tips and pork tenderloin. Other offerings listed under Flemish specialties are Oostende seafood salad, with shrimp, crab and lobster, and lobster salad served on a baguette.

Knowing that we were splitting the Belgian waffle for dessert, Roland and Rosita prepared two separate servings with an inch-thick waffle on each plate, a beautiful garnish of watermelon, kiwi, strawberry and orange slices, and a creative dusting of powdered sugar, with the outline of a fork across the middle of it. The waffles were served with butter and brown sugar on the side, but the rich vanilla taste of the batter called for little else.

At the tiny van Ghent, the friendly Guiliams offer genuine hospitality along with their food. If they were bigger, if they were open more hours, that would quickly fade, explains Roland. Theirs is a leisurely European style, and they plan to keep it that way.

| home page | what's new | search | about the phoenix | feedback |
Copyright © 2000 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group. All rights reserved.