I'm not sure exactly when the Missus and I decided on Belgium as a destination, but somewhere after the New Year, the Missus's love of Belgian brews ignited, and airfare to Brussels seemed reasonable...Prague had always been in the picture, but Belgium, well, that decision was a rather late one.
Which is how we found ourselves in a terrible line at passport control. Honestly, it wasn't even a line at all, just a mass of people in a hallway, more of a cattle pen perhaps, for what seemed a distinctively unorganized entry to the "Capital of the European Union". We basically stood an hour and half in a huge blob of people before making it the actual line for passport control and customs. The folks here are very friendly and nice though. You also seem to have to walk through the entire airport to get to baggage claim (luckily we only had carry-on). It was a slam dunk from there. We found that public transportation in Brussels, like most big cities in Europe is an absolute joy. Down to the lower level and the Express Train to Brussels Centraal Station. The folks at the apartment we were staying at, above an art gallery just a few blocks from the station, perfectly situated for us, gave us impeccable instructions. Within a few minutes we had the keys, gotten some good tips on the area, had climbed up the rather narrow stairway, showered, and were on our way.
We were but three blocks from what became our landmark......
The famous Manneken Pis. You know how they say, "you can't miss it"? Well, in this case, you could miss it if not for the crowds that surround this tiny statue of a little boy peeing.....
The only other constant in the area is the cloying smell of waffles and chocolate, so thick that you can almost see it.
In spite of all the tourists, we quickly noticed that the pace here was quite laid back, unlike Rome, things were low stress, no hard sell, seemingly no scams.....
Grand Place, the former central market square, UNESCO Heritage site, the heart of Brussels, is just a few blocks from Manneken Pis. Also known as Grote Markt in bilingual Belgium, it is indeed a grand sight, even as the clouds rolled in and drops of rain started pouring down.
With the rain falling, it seemed like a good time to get something to eat. Both the Missus and I were starving after our long flight(s). We had been for warned about the "restaurant row" on Rue de Bouchers, by guides, online, and even the folks at the apartment. However, we didn't want to be slogging around, a bit groggy from lack of sleep (I can't sleep on flights), in a city we weren't familiar with. Enter t'Kelderke, located in Grand Place. Yes, it's a tourist restaurant of sorts, downstairs in the cellar right on Grand Place.
I really came to enjoy this type of cellar restaurant. I think there's something rather comforting and cozy, in spite of the darkness.....
Our Server was a rather nice fellow, not overly friendly, but amicable......
Hey, we were in Belgium, right? So it was time for a beer. Not much on the list here, so we started with a Grimbergen Tripel. Kind of light for a tripel, mild citrus tones, not very boozy, and fairly thin tongue feel.
Much like the restaurant itself, it was agreeable, nothing that would challenge you in any way.
The Missus started with the Carbonnade Flamande, the classic Belgian Beef and Beer stew.
And stoemp of course. The stew was ok, the flavor beefy but a bit too sweet, the beef also had a decent flavor, but several pieces were much too tough and fairly dry. The stoemp tasted of too much parsley.
I ordered a Horse Steak medium....which was cooked to a perfect medium.
While the frites were something that could have out of a bag with SYSCO on it; definitely not up to what I would consider Belgian standards, the horse was pretty good. Perhaps not the most gamey, nor sweet horse I've had, more like a powerful grass fed beef sirloin. The Missus absolutely loved it. The Server recommended a mushroom sauce which was served on the side. It had a nice flavor, perhaps a bit heavy on the butter, but not bad.
One thing we quickly noticed, which was a recurring theme was that things weren't overly salted....a nice change of pace from what we're used too.
Overall, a decent meal in a very high tourist area.
Grand' Place 15
By the time we worked our way back up to daylight, the rain had long passed and things had dried up a bit. Before we headed back to the apartment for a nap we headed out the other end of Grand Place and to the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. Built in 1847, this place claims to be the oldest operating shopping mall in Europe.
I really loved the neo-classical design which bestowed a sense of elegance to the glass covered arcade. You really expect great works of art to be lining the walls instead of windows to various chocolate shops and cafes.
We then headed through Rue de Bouchers, wall to wall restaurants waiting for tourists and past the Church of St Nicholas.
Running right into the huge building known as the Bourse - The Stock Exchange Building. Here's a photo of the front form across busy Boulevard Anspach.
Funny thing, we'd just arrived and in the matter of minutes had seen most of lower town sights!
We headed back to the apartment and took a well earned nap. In spite of the rather heavy lunch (and beer), we awoke hungry. We headed on out, walking past all the places we passed before. You notice much more the second, and third time around. Near MP there's this mural of Tintin, the world famous cartoon created by Brussels born cartoonist Hergé.
The Missus and I really enjoyed the murals and street art of Belgium.
Crossing Anspach and past what we call "Brussel's Chinatown" (more in a later post), we got the area known as St Catherine. We really enjoyed the vibe of this area, which seemed even more laid back. The area is dotted with cafes, restaurants, food shops, and such.
Just south of the area on a rather non-descript street is a place I really wanted to check out.
Not much of a sign to speak of, communal seating, the menu is written on a chalkboard (in French - but I heard the Servers explain the dishes in English to some folks), nice selection of beer (served at the perfect temp), this is the type of no-nonsense places I love....though if you'd move this to San Diego it would be full of hipsters and called a Gastropub. And it would make a killing. The prices are right, the service can be on the brusque side.....until they understood that we really appreciated the food and drink. You don't hesitate here....you spot an opening and you go for it.
Decisiveness wins the day here. If they are busy feel free to walk up to the bar and politely order your beer; which in my case was a Trappistes Rochefort 10, a wonderful brown quadrupel with a slight raisin and a wonderful, smooth, tongue coating texture. Man, now this was a beer to sit and savor. As you can tell, I was really starting to get into this.
The Missus ordered what might be Her favorite Gueze of the trip; a Mort Subite. This seemed to have the right combination of a mild fruitiness along with all the sour attributes of a Gueze without being too dry. Something interesting we found was that folks were somewhat surprised that the Missus, a woman, enjoyed sours.
Of course we ate......this time I ordered the Carbonnade Flamande(made with Chimay) which we both really enjoyed. The beef was perfectly cooked, very tender, but not falling apart. The flavor was a nice beefy, with a balanced sweet and savory thing going for it.
The Missus just had to order the Sausage and Stoemp.
Without a doubt the best Stoemp I've ever had. The Missus really enjoyed this, especially the sauce, which I believe was also made with beer, mustard, and probably beef stock.
The price at 34 Euros ($45) we thought was very reasonable.
Le Fin de Siècle
Rue des Chartreux 9
After dinner we walked around a bit, enjoying the public art.
The Belle-vue Gueuze was very basic, not too sour, middle of the road, with nothing that really stood out.
The Brugge Tripel was quite effervescent for a tripel. Kind of boozy, with some mild fruit. Not the nice texture that I like in a tripel, but not bad.
Yes, we were having a heck of a time....can't you tell?
I realize this was a long one. If you hung around 'til the end, I thank you for reading!