CINCINNATI -- When Taste of Belgium in Over-the-Rhine reopens on July 11, it will be what Jean-Francois Flechet had envisioned five years ago when he first opened the restaurant.
At that time, Flechet was new to the restaurant business, and Over-the-Rhine was just gaining momentum as an epicenter of trendy bars and restaurants. Five years, three restaurants and two market locations later, Flechet has established himself as a restaurateur and is now in a position to finally realize his vision.
The restaurant has been undergoing renovations since mid-February, though operating hours didn't change until mid-May, when it was open only on the weekends. Then a fire several weeks ago forced the restaurant to close altogether. The sprinkler system contained much of the fire, which still left sizable electrical and water damage in its wake and delayed the reopening. However, Flechet pushed ahead with the renovation as part of his lease renewal with 3CDC; he is signing on for another 10 years at the Over-the-Rhine location.
The renovation runs the gamut, from structural work to the finer aesthetics. “We’re redoing everything,” he said.
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The restaurant will now seat 100 inside, with room for 10 to 20 more outside, and the new private room will seat 30. In short, the seating capacity will be double what it used to be, and a third of the general-seating tables will now be available for reservations.
The newly installed exhaust hood over the waffle irons is a conspicuous change from before, “so people won’t leave smelling like a waffle,” Flechet said, with a chuckle. There’s even bar-like seating that allows patrons to peer into the waffle-baking line through a glass window.
What was once the bakery production area has now made way for additional seating. However, Taste of Belgium is not discontinuing its baked offerings. Since last September, Taste of Belgium has been producing baked goods like scones, pies, tarts and waffle dough for all of its Cincinnati locations from a small commissary north of Liberty Parkway. Flechet declined to pinpoint the commissary’s exact location but indicated that the dedicated production space has greatly streamlined their operations, allowing them to better use their retail space.
The bar has been extended to accommodate a half-dozen more bar stools, and the new bar boasts 24 beers on draft, compared to just six previously. The beer list comprises Belgian, Belgian-style and local beers.
“There will be more beers on draft than any other dining establishment in Over-the-Rhine,” Flechet said.
In addition to expanding the craft cocktail program, Flechet hinted at the rollout of “spiked” coffee drinks. He cited the example of a blended Speculoos latte – a blended drink of ice cream, Speculoos spread, espresso, young grain Genever (a Belgian spirit), caramel and whipped cream. Speculoos refers to cookies spiced with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
Dads of young children will be pleased to know that both the women’s and men’s bathrooms are now equipped with baby-changing stations. (Flechet, a father himself, said he wants to make it easy on other dads.)
In addition to new lights and other furnishings, Flechet is also considering flying an artist in from Belgium to create original artwork on Tectum panels, which are known for noise absorption.
“It’s definitely a lot of money, but we’re better positioned for the future,” Flechet said, referring to the renovation. He grinned and added, “I feel good.”
Taste of Belgium OTR
1133 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine
Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO Digital. She is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.