If you didn’t know, here’s a fact about our fair city.
To qualify as a true Washingtonian, one must:
- Know someone important
- Be the most pretentious curator of “the best _____” in DC
- Drink. Heavily.
Coincidentally, water always seeks its own level and the calling to be with other relevant District dwellers is a strong driving force in almost activity in DC.
That’s why I slapped on some ironic red lipstick over the defeated pallor of a long day of work and schlepped (necessary verb) to Union Market from the NW trenches of the red line to be with other Washingtonians frolicking among our favorite locally sourced fare in one of the most sacred mating rituals in the district. We’ve all shamefully attended warehouse sales in the back docks or tried vegan pick up lines at Union Market but there is a new addition to the moiety of food stops that demands some more serious attention. Besides being easily nestled among other vendors like DC Dosa and Righteous Cheese, Saison Wafle Bar epitomizes the three central tenants of being a Washingtonian with a sweet, Belgian crunch
1.Know someone important
Starting with Jan Van Haute, the brains behind the nosh: Jan is the Executive Chef to the Belgian Ambassador, the founder of Saison Wafel Bar and owner of Haute Saison Catering. Can’t muster up the courage to start conversation? Just ask Chef Van Haute about his unique sugar and why he chose to bring DC what is undeniably, the best, most authentic waffle in our midst. Yep. Segway to number 2.
2.Be the most pretentious curator of “the best _____” in DC
In the words of Chef Van Haute, “waffles are not just for breakfast,” making Saison home to not only something top notch, but a nosh that is a unique novelty among the torrents of hummus and Spanish tapas dominating the happy hour scene. With locally sourced ingredients like smoked salmon from Profish, to-die-for Pastrami hailing from Singer’s Significant Meats and cheeses from Trickling Spring’s Creamery, Saison gives one hefty shout out to the local DC food scene in a brand new package.
There’s little doubt that most have never experienced the reality that is a true waffle, made evident in the fact that most American’s insist on calling them “Belgium waffles” still. At Saison, this common misconception can be rectified in the form of the Brussels wafel and the Liege wafel (for the geographically disinclined, those are cities in Belgium). The Liege is somewhat more recognizable to the American pallet, with its hardened, crunchy edges and airy inside; however, Saison skipped no detail in maintaining the integrity of its product and it is evident in the most surprising ingredient in Union market (in my easily bemused opinion).
The Liege wafel contains “pearled sugar” imported from Belgium, which I now know is a singularly necessary and subtly integral part of a true Liege style wafel. Chef Van Haute or any of his staff will proudly exhibit a jar of this beautiful pearled sugar as they did for me, and trust me … its as interesting as it sounds. Having a career that has stemmed from chemical industry and hence knowing very intimately the sugar processing industry, I was thoroughly perplexed at how these dusty little balls of sugar were produced and how this idea bypassed the American market, but I shut up quickly when I experienced how pearled sugar impacted the final wafel. Talking inhibits the eating process. Between the imported Belgian, cast iron wafel irons that do not require greasing (its all in the mix, as they say), and the sugar content from the pearls of the batter, the Liege wafel acquires a distinctly crunchy quality to its outer shell and more pleasingly, crunchy “pop rocks” of pearled sugar throughout. Chef was kind enough to send us all home with a bag of these wafels which my adoring family ate before daybreak the next morning, so its been validated: these things are maddening by themselves, but that hasn’t stopped chef from offering his many adaptations.
Brussels wafel, Belgian chocolate mouse, whipped cream, strawberry sauce, chocolate chips.
On opening night we enjoyed three versions of a bread pudding made from this wafel staple: strawberry, apricot and a maple bacon bread pudding. Sweet, savory, rich … bread pudding is always delicious but the texture rendered from the wafel makes it far more dense and more interesting than traditional puddings. Of course, who can imagine a wafel without fruit, cream and chocolate? The Liege wafel is more traditionally eaten sitting down, less like street food and hence warrants the liberty of SLATHERING it with any kind of tongue libation you could think of. The plain Jane version boasts a simple dusting of powdered sugar and is, in my opinion, the Chanel of wafels. Simple and classic, but if you like to accessorize, strawberries, Belgian chocolate drizzle and whipped creme or bananas and chocolate are definitely offered up at Saison. Knowing people, the average person is going to want to put “the stuff” on it, to all the foodies out there: refrain! Enjoy the Liege wafel in its unaltered integrity, feel the pearled sugar, enjoy the texture. Then feel free to order another … and have your way with it.
The Brussels wafel was my favorite not for the wafel, but for the varied adaptations Saison offers that make it unique. By definition, the Liege wafel is not sweet, is much softer than the Liege and much more buttery in characteristic. Which is why its very easily folded up and can hold a universe of topping possibilities, making it a street food more traditionally. The “Deli on a Wafel” as it is lovingly referred to, is the Brussels wafel sporting Singer’s Significant Meat’s pastrami, dijon, onion, pickle and sprouts. Other offerings include Profish’s smoked Salmon, cream cheese and tomato, Bacon mouse and foie gras mouse wafels. Chef Van Haute is certainly a creative thinker and I am certain he will have many specials to hit Saison as time progresses, but if you can’t wait for that, just give him a call and have Saison cater your next business luncheon.
Liege Wafel, Smoked Salmon, cherry tomato, onion, creme fraiche
“The Deli on a Wafel”: Smoked Pastrami, Dijon, Onion, Pickle, Sprouts.
Listen up kids, I’m about to tell you a story. It goes like this: creamy, white Chimay cheese griddled between the loving embrace of the Brussels wafel. The end. For those wanting to sit back with a Duvel, order the grilled cheese wafel.Its not traditional and not good for those with dairy allergies, yet, I dove into this wafel head first. Over and over again. This my friends, is why I’ll be back to Saison. Beautiful reinvention and utilization of simple, and perfectly curated ingredients mingling in a maelstrom of traditional Belgian noshes and some creative spins. Bring your mom, bring your kids, come alone, bring a date; just come hungry. Saison is a very welcome and refreshing European addition to Union Market that is teeming with DC’s best wafels. So the next time you’re in a one-up conversation with some asshole in the break room, let them know that you are a connoisseur of Belgian carbs, thanks to Saison.
3. Drink. Heavily.
Chef Van Haute made it very clear to me that wafels are not just for breakfast and they pair well with beer. I’m from Savannah so this statement took some pondering. What’s wrong with beer at breakfast? I’ll rest this case and let you know that Saison will be offering a select few Belgian beers to give the thirsty eater a taste of the brews hailing from this magical land of chocolate, wafels and dairy.
If you’re feeling less than qualified as a district foodie, Saison is the cure.
Dr. Reynolds, out. (drops mic).