Have you ever heard of the city of Leuven in Belgium?
Perhaps by its French name Louvain?
But before we talk about Optimist…
Allow us to give you a tiny bit of background info here.
4 fun facts about Leuven
- It is home to Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer. Stella Artois anyone?
- Leuven’s city hall is one of the most beautiful gothic buildings in the world. Its architecture resembles the city hall of Brussels and Bruges.
- Father Damian was a Belgian Roman Catholic priest and missionary who voluntarily went to Molokai island in 1873 to care for and help Hawaii’s deported leper patients. He is buried in the Saint Anthony’s church crypt in Leuven and was canonized in 2009.
- The largest university in Belgium is in Leuven. It is populated by 58 000 students of which 9 000 are international students. KU Leuven is the 45th best university worldwide.
Not bad, aye.
Anyway, you probably guessed it by now.
The mix of students, locals and business people also makes Leuven a very lively city.
And the food!
There are a bunch of cafés, restaurants, coffee bars and fast food hotspots. Which is great because there is always something new going on every time we visit.
So, last year, we were back in Leuven.
Luc’s daughter Sydney recommends a funky place in town, called Optimist. Not only because the food is good, also because Optimist has quite a nice selection of Belgian draft and bottled beers.
We like the decor as soon as we walk in.
No nonsense, rustic wooden tables and interior, a large bar with indeed nice draft beers by the looks of it. Surrounded by blackboards with other available bottled beers written on it.
The music is pleasant, not too loud.
The very friendly and swift young Optimist waiter informs us that we can take a picture of the full menu that is written on another large blackboard further down the room near the bar. Safer than handing out menus during a pandemic.
Picture taken, the menu looks very appealing.
Creative and interesting dishes. What we like is that you can order almost all of them in 3 sizes: small, medium and large. The 4 of us decide to go for the small portions. We can always order extra if we don’t feel full in the end.
The waiter takes our orders: an appetizer and 5 dishes. We wait for our draft beer and appetizer to arrive. Which takes less than 5 minutes.
Half a camembert.
Gooey and creamy. And it apparently comes with bread, roasted nuts, fresh grapes, marmalade and mustard as well. That’s a hefty appetizer! And it is delicious.
What did we order next?
Ribs in a sweet soy sauce glaze. The meat is fall off the bone tender, very flavorful and that glaze is sticky and rich. Literally finger licking good.
Next up, a panzanella salad.
An Italian style bread salad with fresh tomatoes. The bread croutons are crisp and golden, chunks of tomato and small mozzarella balls. The raw red onion adds freshness to it.
Sweet Potato Salad
What do we have here?
A lovely sweet potato, fresh fig and cashew salad. The roasted sweet potato wedges are soft and smooth. Lovely texture contrast with the sweet figs and crunchy creamy cashews. Light balsamic vinegar dressing.
This could be a lovely veggie lunch salad on its own, yum!
Haddock & Cauliflower
Fish was also on the menu.
Today’s special: haddock, cauliflower and chorizo. On the table comes a nice bowl with 2 nice slices of pan seared haddock on a silky soft cauliflower and potato puree.
Garnished with tender florets of romanesco cauliflower and crunchy crisp fried bits of chorizo. A finishing sprinkle of paprika and fresh watercress sprouts. Yes, this is our favorite.
What a beautiful creation!
Halloumi & Watermelon
Last but not least: another salad that could also be a gorgeous lunch.
Grilled halloumi cheese with watermelon, roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh basil. Perfect execution, beautiful combination of flavors and colors. Simple drizzle of olive oil.
Would we come back to Optimist?
Optimist serves fresh and seasonal creative dishes. Service was very attentive and fast. Our orders didn’t take long to arrive. We like sharing plates. The appetizer and 5 small sharing plates were enough for dinner for us 4.
Price range: €7 to €20, depending on the portion size you order.
Nice selection of Belgian draft and bottled beers as well.