Belgian Delight: THE NAME PRETTY MUCH SAYS IT ALL
MOTHER AND SONS GIVE RESTAURANT A HOMEY FEEL
Halfway between the Door County line and Sturgeon Bay lies the place where everybody knows your name.
Well, if not everybody, then at least the cheerful senior citizen who watches the door and greets everyone who comes through.
“Hi Terry, Hi Pat, sit anywhere you want,” Rose Mae Vandertie calls from the counter, or from behind the cash register, or from the table where she is playing a game of cooyah with friends. “Hi Les, anywhere you want, Hi Elma.”
Rose Mae is the mother of Gary and Dean Vandertie, who bought the old Cattail Cafe outside Brussels in September 2012 and have reim gined it as the Belgian Delight.
More of a traditional family restaurant than a purveyor of ethnic food, the eatery sits in the heart of Belgian Country, a region of southern Door and northern Kewaunee counties peppered with hamlets with names like Brussels, Namur, Thiry Daems and Rosiere, where imigrants from the Walloon area of Belgium settled in the 19th century and set down deep roots.
They do give a nod to that heritage in the jut – a tasty blend of cabbage, pork and onions – that can accompany a serving of family-style chicken, the Belgian trippe sausage that can complement your eggs and hash browns. Then there’s the booyah – a delectable Belgian chicken concoction somewhere between soup and stew that is almost always on the list of available soups, along with chili and Dean’s amazing cream of seafood soup.
The brothers – Gary is 57 and Dean is 52 – aren’t exactly new to the restaurant business: Rose Mae and her late husband, Pat, ran a bar in Brussels for 25 years where they helped out as kids. But it is primarily a family of farmers – Gary owns two farms, Dean and Rose Mae one each, although they sold their herds and have rented out the land since opening the Bel- gian Delight.
Culinary delight is in their genes. An Avon dealer for 57 years, Rose Mae would invite delivery drivers in to have breakfast or lunch with the family.
“They would compete to come up,” Gary said. “They knew they’d have their breakfast homemade. I’d sit down at the table and say, ‘Slide over Dean, it’s Avon day today.”
“We didn’t have junk food,” Rose Mae said. “It was always good meat and potatoes, with a vegetable – and we always had dessert on the table.”
The Belgian Delight has its roots in Dean’s knack for baking melt-in-your- mouth tortes, cheesecakes and pies. Gary kept telling him they were restau- rant-quality creations.
“We told him that for years. I’d say, ‘Where can you go around here to get something that tastes this good?’” Gary said. “People would call up and ask if Dean could make a torte for a birthday party.”
Dean was having none of it.
“I’d tell him, ’Don’t be so foolish,’” he said.
But they eventually wore him down and had begun to consider building a restaurant on Rose Mae’s land near Highway 57 outside Brussels when they got word the Cattail Cafe was for sale on the other side of the four-lane road. They opened the day after Labor Day 2012 and have slowly but surely built up a constituency.
The cook and wait staff are comprised almost entirely of people who live in Belgian Country – neighbors, friends and family who live as near as down the road and not much farther away than a few miles.
The menu features most of the staples to be found at any family restaurant with some farmstyle embellishments – the bacon added to the traditional Canadian bacon in the Eggs Benedict comes to mind. In addition to the main menu, the soup early May a man brought in a couple of bags of freshpicked asparagus, which Gary turned into a cream of asparagus soup that sold out in two days.
And with Dean leading the way, they turn out a dizzying variety of des- serts that diners would be advised to save room for. The whiteboard listing the available pies, tortes and cheesecakes is constantly being revised as new works come out of the oven and customers finish off others.
Gary and Dean will emerge from the small-but-efficient kitchen as time al- lows to visit with customers and make sure everyone’s happy.
“You meet all kinds of people,” Gary said. “That’s what’s so fun.”
As might be expected for a roadside restaurant 10 minutes north of the “Welcome to Door County” sign, many of those people are from somewhere else – and they come back.
“We’ve had people say, ‘Can you pick this place up and move it to Milwau- kee?’ and ‘How about you open a Belgian Delight 2 in Chicago?’” Gary said.
They’re busy enough, thank you, and they’re concerned about expansion that could stress their ability to turn out quality food.
One of the most unique aspects of the Belgian Delight is the eclectic mix of collectibles scattered everywhere on the walls and shelves around the din- ing room. Gary is an inveterate shopper and collector of Depression glass, Tiffany-style lamps, musical clocks, stamped porcelain, paintings and prints, salt-and-pepper shakers, and more.
“We didn’t intend to sell any of it; we’d tell people they weren’t for sale,” Gary said. “But everybody wanted to buy the decorations.”
Adding price tags is one of two things they’ve done by popular demand. The other: They held firm for four years not accepting credit or debit cards, instead having an ATM machine on the premises. After fielding numerous complaints from customers who prefer the convenience, they started taking plastic this spring.
It’s hard to miss the Belgian Delight restaurant – just turn west onto County Road C from State Highway 57, and after about a quarter-mile it’s the build- ing with the red roof and the 8-foot-tall statue of a chicken outside. During summer they open at 7 a.m. daily (6 a.m. Saturday-Sunday) and close at 8 p.m. except 2 p.m. Monday and 9 p.m. Friday.