A couple blocks from the Water Tower Campus at 738 N. Clark St., off the Chicago Red Line El stop, Bel 50 is making waffles to order and filling them with savory ingredients like fried chicken, wine-braised short ribs, smoked salmon or portabella mushrooms, or sweets like Nutella, Italian cheesecake mousse or lemon custard.
The store is a bizarre mix of collage- style graffiti wall-art, cube-shaped chairs and semi-loud ‘90s dance music, but somehow it works. The staff is amazing and super friendly, and if you’re lucky, you’ll even catch some of the chefs dancing to an N*SYNC jam.
There is definitely enough space for seating. The back of the restaurant has a more personal setting with two and four-person tables, while the front hosts the orange cube seats stationed at communal tables and a counter along the store front window.
Bel 50’s menu is broken into three major food categories: sandwiches, salads and breakfast foods (which recently became available all day). The sandwiches, which are the stars of the restaurant, are divided into savory ($7- 8) and sweet ($4-5).
While there are plenty of creative sandwiches to choose from, picky eaters may have trouble finding something, although there is a waffle bread BLT, burger and PB&J.
For my savory sandwich I chose one with buttermilk fried chicken, honey-mustard glaze and slaw; I was encouraged by the cashier, who informed me it was her favorite (her second favorite is the short rib sandwich and third is the BBQ pulled pork).
I was a little hesitant about having a waffle fill in for the beloved sandwich bread, so I did a little research. As it turns out, Bel 50 had done its own research on the history of the waffle (displayed on the restaurant wall in the form of a timeline) and was born from the dream to make a waffle that “tastes like freshly baked country bread, but with more texture.” The result is a thinner, crispier waffle that tastes similar to wheat bread.
The dream also included making a healthier version of the traditional Belgian waffle. Each waffle-bread is 220 calories, with 27 grams of carbs and four grams of sugar. To compare, a six-inch piece of Italian bread from Subway has 200 calories, 38 grams of carbs and five grams of sugar.
With my research complete and increased confidence in the waffle’s ability to stand in as bread, I took my first bite. Initially, I was disappointed by the lack of flavor in the waffle, but as it was simply the vehicle to transport the rest of the ingredients to my mouth, it was forgiven.
The chicken, glaze and slaw were good, and the sandwich as a whole was flavorful but a little too tangy for my liking (the glaze was way more mustard than honey). Luckily, since the restaurant also serves breakfast, there was syrup at the condiments counter, and adding a bit to the sandwich balanced out the over-whelming tang.
Although the flavor was good, the waffle started to get soggy and fall apart halfway through, which made finishing difficult and the employment of a fork necessary.
Along with my chicken sandwich, I had a side of parmesan-truffle tater tots for $3. They were good, but so is any fried potato, and they lacked flavor despite the promising name.
After my savory sandwich and tots, I was full and decided to take my sweet sandwich, with berries and Italian cheesecake mousse, to go. After experiencing the sogginess of my savory sandwich waffle-bread, I inquired about how the to-go order would last on my half-hour trip back to Lake Shore Campus and had the ingredients packed separately in an attempt to avoid spoiling the sandwich.
Unfortunately, when I was ready to eat my sweet sandwich, the waffle was flimsy and too big to fit in a toaster to crisp back up. I warmed it up in the microwave and topped it with the cheesecake mousse and berries, which were both splendid on their own, but the hopelessly dead waffle left me unsatisfied.
Verdict: Bel 50 is a good spot for lunch if you have a break between classes at WTC, but it’s not worth trying to take it to go and reviving at home. While the restaurant’s atmosphere and sandwich flavors are good, the waffle doesn’t quite fill the big shoes of a loaf of bread.