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
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.