Mowed Down by the Mitraillette Sandwich at Manneken Frites
Mannekin Frites doesn't expect you to eat the whole sandwich with that tiny fork.
Belgium is known for two things in most of the world: chocolate and those miniature cabbages from Brussels. Food does seem to be their thing in the tiny country that's split geographically and culturally between the Flemish and the Walloons, but an equally tiny Arvada beer and Belgian street-food bar has breached the divide, beginning with its name, Manneken Frites, which combines the Germanic name of the miniature statue in the heart of Brussels with the French word for fried potatoes. But it's the traditional Mitraillette sandwich that perhaps best encapsulates the grudging amalgamation of disparate bedfellows sharing space for the greater good.
The word mitraillette is French for submachine gun, although the exact reasons for naming a sandwich after an automatic firearm have been lost to history. One thing is certain: The alternate name, "death by starch," while accurate, never really caught on.
The sandwich itself is a simple if daunting roast beef sandwich, served at Manneken Frites on a hoagie roll, piled to the point of absurdity with fresh-cut fries, a small amount of cheese and a dollop of a sauce of your choice (Manneken Frites offers more than twenty). Owner Chris Stromberg recommended the steak au poivre mayo, so that's what I went with.
As is tradition in the Low Countries, my mitraillette came with a tiny fork for spearing fries. It's an inefficient way of eating, so I soon switched to shoehorning the entire sandwich directly into my mouth. The combination of steak and mayo was a winner; the fries were fluffy on the interior and crisp on the outside, as they should be. The cheese got a little lost in the mess of it, and I blacked out about halfway through, so a final evaluation is unfortunately impossible.
I will say this: Take Stromberg's advice and do not order an extra side of fries to go with your mitraillette, but do take my advice and wash it down with a DeKonninck Belgian ale on draft. When the sun comes in just right through the front window of the little cafe and the sweetish taste of the amber ale is on your lips, you'll feel like you're in a simpler time, when street mimes were held in high esteem and horse carts could be seen delivering mitraillette sandwiches to off-duty soldiers treating their sweethearts to coma-inducing levels of carbohydrates.
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