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Ellis Gourmet Burger

A good hamburger should be eaten with your hands. Ignore the fork and knife and take a big bite out of one at this popular burger joint on Brussels' Place Sainte-Catherine.

Open since May 2011, Ellis Gourmet Burger is the applause-worthy initiative of six friends who recognised the lack of quality (read: non-fast food) hamburgers in Brussels. There's already another Ellis in the coastal town of Knokke, and if their success continues, we may see more Ellis locations open up in other cities such as Ghent or Antwerp.

At the Brussels location, the interior is sleek and modern yet relaxed. On the walls are mementos from the history of the hamburger, from Germany to the New World via Ellis Island, New York. And finally, following the American example, special attention is given to quick and friendly service. There are plenty of servers hustling about on both levels, and giving our order in English feels somehow natural.

My friends and I enjoy a diner-style booth with a view of the square on one side and the open kitchen on the other. One young client is seated at the bar, his legs swinging under the stool as he happily sips from a chocolate milkshake. There’s no lack of 1950s retro nostalgia here.

The menu is refreshingly short, listing few creative burgers in addition to the classics. Know that if you order one of the Louis burgers (classic or cheese), it is served on two slices of toasted white bread rather than the classic bun. (Louis, for the record, is a reference to Louis’ Lunch, supposedly the first place to serve hamburgers in 1895 Connecticut.)

My friend’s Louis Cheese looks rather plain and dry, but once the juices from the burger seep through the bread, it’s a lot tastier. The meat is topped with melted Cheddar cheese, tomato, red onion and a spicy ketchup-mustard mixture.

All of the other burgers come stacked between soft buns of good-quality bread with a nice outer crisp. And they’re not all beef. My friend thoroughly enjoys her chicken “burger”, a grilled breast of chicken smothered in tarragon mayonnaise and topped with grilled vegetables, red onion and parmesan cheese.

The concept of a burger-based restaurant is as simple as the hamburger itself, but making a good one is the real challenge. At Ellis, it’s obvious that fresh ingredients take top priority.

I order the Ellis Special Bacon: 100% beef, Cheddar, smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, red onion and pickles. It’s tall, but after patting it down I’m able to tuck in. The first thing I taste are the juices running out of the meat. (All of the burgers, by the way, are served medium unless requested otherwise.) My burger is indeed cooked through, but just barely. Inside is very pink and full of flavour. The bacon adds a smoky touch, while the red onion and pickles give it a little kick.

I’m tempted to order another one straight away, probably because I’ve been spoiled by American sizes to which these portions offer no comparison. But instead I stuff myself on a side of cole slaw and fries with mayonnaise. The creamy red and white cabbage slaw with raisins is on the sweet side, but the fries are thick, crispy and satisfying.

Add in one Bloody Mary, a Duvel and a Vedett, and the bill comes to an even €50 for the three of us.

4 Place-Sainte-Catherine, Brussels; 02.514.23.14
Sun-Thurs, 12.00-23.00; Fri-Sat, 12.00-00.00
Burgers: €8-€13
Fresh, juicy hamburgers with all the fixin’s


This article was originally published in Flanders Today