Tucked away on the corner of Mass Ave and Arrow Street in Harvard Square is the new Belgian-waffle bakery and café, Zinneken's. It opened mid-September, taking the place of Arrow Street Crepes, and serves Liège-style Belgian waffles. Crisp on the outside and dense and chewy on the inside, these waffles are yeast-based and made with imported pearl sugar that caramelizes when baked, adding a hint of sweetness.
The café-bakery has the warm, welcoming atmosphere of a Belgian kitchen, with floral throw pillows, small wooden tables and light gray wall paneling. Quaintly decorated yet unpretentious, it also has a sense of humor. On one wall, a Magritte painting sits on a shelf alongside a replica of the Manneken Pis, the infamous bronze sculpture in Brussels of a naked boy peeing into a fountain.
The register looks into an open kitchen, where the waffles are prepared right in front of you. Choose from 10 decadent waffle combinations ($5.20–$8.70) like the Gourmand (bananas, whipped cream, caramel), Oreo Freakin' Party (Oreos, raspberries, whipped cream), and the Zinneken (whipped cream, Belgian chocolate, caramel-ginger Speculoos spread). Or, order a signature waffle ($4.70) and add fresh fruit toppings (strawberries, bananas, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries/$1 each), non-fruit toppings (Belgian chocolate, Nutella, whipped cream, Oreos, Speculoos spread, caramel/$.50 each), or a scoop of ice cream ($2.30).
I tried the Fruit Delight waffle, which carefully balanced the tartness of fresh slices of strawberries and bananas with the sweetness of Belgian chocolate shavings, powdered sugar, and a side of Maple Grove Farm syrup from Vermont (no Aunt Jemima here). It arrived promptly, within 10 minutes of me ordering, on a silvery plate. While the waffle was about one-fourth the amount of the dish-size American waffles I'm used to, it was surprisingly filling — though I wouldn't recommend sharing one.
Zinneken's stays true to its roots, offering coffee brewed European-style ($2.50): not quite espresso but certainly strong. Another continental drink is the macchiato ($2), espresso with a dollop of milk foam. Additionally, the waffle shop sells fine Belgian chocolates at the register, including Côte d'Or, Dolfin, and Galler, which are hard to find in the United States.
Zinneken's seats around 20, and with most tables nearly side by side, all conversations are public. Weekends are especially busy, so arrive early if you don't want to wait for a table. Fortunately, their waffles are also made to go, keeping with the tradition of Belgian waffles as street fare.
Zinneken's, located at 1154 Mass Ave (One Arrow Street), in Cambridge, is open Monday–Thursday, 8 am–11 pm; Friday–Saturday, 8 am–12 am; and Sunday, 8 am–10 pm. Call 617.876.0836 or visit facebook.com/zinnekenswaffles.