A bite of the Big Apple goes down a treat – in Brussels – Brussels In View


Published on August 19th, 2019 | by James Drew


A bite of the Big Apple goes down a treat – in Brussels

They say you can’t keep a good thing down and that’s certainly true about Manhattn’s, a rapidly expanding upmarket “fast food” chain in Belgium, writes Martin Banks.

Only a few short years after the first eatery opened, the fifth has just been launched, in Gent, and is already proving a huge success.

One reason for the success of this business is the innovative approach of its two founders, Jerome Vandermeulen and his brother Phil.

An example of this is their latest initiative: veggie burgers.

In order to reflect the growing trend towards healthier eating, the pair decided to introduce “plant-based beef” products at their restaurants. The veggie version is not a meat burger but, according to those who’ve tried them, just as nice. Manhattn’s, initially, served only meat and chicken burgers but customers increasingly asked for an alternative, hence the decision to launch the new offering.

The aim is not, of course, to become a veggie eating place  but merely offer diners another option, says Mamadou Kake, the manager at Manhattn’s on Avenue Louise, the first one to open in October 2014.

In the intervening years, Jerome and Phil have opened four other “branches” – two in Brussels, at the Bourse and Merode; one in the historic quarter of Antwerp and, a coupe of months ago, a fifth in a historic building in Gent (which is already doing a roaring trade).

Each has its own typical clientele: the one at the Bourse, for instance, attracts hoards of tourists while Manhattn’s on Avenue Louis tends to draw more on people living and working nearby.

They all have the same menu and yellow and black “themed” décor: with the famous Manhattan-skyline being the stand out feature, of course.

But, of course, it is the food that is the main thing and, here, you will not be disappointed.

The taste, flavour and sheer quality of the burgers that are served – some with very inventive names like Rockefeller, Empire, Gatsby and Brooklyn (remind you of anywhere?).

This may be fast food but it is most certainly superior to that found at similar outlets, as is the lovely welcome and service.

The prime Angus cattle that is the source for the burgers are grass fed; the chips are very well cooked and tasty (as are the buns) and you really do need to also try the accompanying sauces, including the “secret sauce” (you’ll really have to pay a visit to see how good it is!).

For those yet to discover it, Manhattn’s is a real Belgian success story which started when Jerome went to New York to work and started selling Belgian waffles and other typical Belgian products in the bustling streets of Manhattan.

For a couple of years he mastered the ins and outs of the New York food truck scene and street life in general.

Jerome returned to Belgium and transposed “the entertaining and enchanting New York experience” to Brussels,his home city.

In partnership with Phil, who already had extensive culinary track-record in the Belgian restaurant scene, the go ahead Vandermeulens set about realising their dream.

Manhattn’s is all about fusing a ‘fast casual dining’ concept with a desire for quality products. A crucial element is the energetic and lively “American-style” customer service from a team of hard working young staff. At Av Louise this includes the very welcoming and friendly Guinea-born Mamadou, who first came to Belgium as a university student in 2002. After spells at fast food joints, he joined Manhattn’s and, he says, has not looked back.

“I love it here” he says, “not least because there is more human contact and boss listens to his staff – and customers – and takes on board what we have to say.”

You order at the front counter, take a seat and a small device you’re given will alert you when the food is ready. Great fun! The non-stop kitchen is open 7/7 from 11.30am-10.30pm. Look out for the summer special currently available: a “Little Italy” burger, Oreo cookie milkshake and wine (glass or bottle) which, like other items on the card, is all very reasonably priced.

Not long after its launch the business was shortlisted in the visit.brussels Awards “Best gastronomic concept”.

Jerome and his brother are living proof that, as the famous Frank Sinatra song goes: “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.”

164 Av. Louise, Brussels

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