UPDATE: Unfortunately, this restaurant closed its doors for business on September 29th, 2012. We wish them the best of luck in new ventures!
For a taste of what it’s like to dine in Europe, check out the romantic Brasserie Belge to get a sense! Authentic and delicious Belgian food prepared and served traditionally with friendly, relaxed service.
This review is part of a series of restaurant reviews that follows The Watering Mouth’s restaurant review guidelines.
Background Info on the Review
A couple years ago, I used to work in this very same building! The restaurant used to be this cute little donut shop where I remember getting Eggnog Lattes every single morning for like 2 months straight before Christmas one year.
So coming back to this area always gives me a dose of nostalgia and warmth. Not to mention the fact that living in France, brasseries were my favorite restaurants to go to because they were casual, had great food and always offered the outdoor seating that you so often see Europeans taking advantage of whenever possible. Step into Brasserie Belge on Main Street and you will get a sense of real-world European dining!
When they first opened, a couple of my co-workers and I ventured down to check it out and got to take advantage of their soft-opening freebies. So I happen to know from experience that their Tuna Tartare is fabulous! And on my Tastings at any restaurant, I usually get served between 7-10 menu items, so I get a really good idea of the scope of the menu and the way things are prepared. And this night out with my Dad was a gluttonous feast to rival all the others.
Cheri’s Food Review
I know this is a Belgian restaurant, but I wanted to start off with something typical of my time in France (they’re neighboring countries, okay!), so I chose the Sangria. And Dad had never had Sangria before, and he really liked this. It’s delicious and sweet, and very bubbly. Lots of chunks of fruit that delightfully keep getting stuck in your straw and there is a piece of sugar cane to stir with. (Never had sugar cane? Chew on it a bit!) This is the kind of drink that you always drink too fast. My favorite part is, of course, eating the pieces of drunken fruit after, and in this case, it was to be among the healthier choices of the night. And lastly, as I never claim to be an expert on alcohol, what I do know is that they have an extensive beer and wine list, which is expertly paired with dishes on the menu.
Our first appetizer was the Croquettes de Homard and au Fromage. This is basically the European version of Mozzarella Cheese Sticks. So the Homard Croquettes are made with lobster and the Fromage ones are with cheese. But these are not your typical cheese sticks! The lobster croquettes are like having a solid version of lobster bisque – creamy, salty, crispy and delicious! And the cheese ones… Well, you imagine these to be the up-scale version of typical cheese sticks. These have three types of cheese inside, and one is a secret ingredient! There is Parmesan, a Belgian cheese and a Secret Cheese! These are very creamy and also still stretch just like regular cheese sticks. Don’t believe me? I took the photo to prove it.
One little note on the ambiance here – while we were there, they had a live piano player in the background who was playing some old favorites, all the tables have the white tablecloths and there are real candles burning all around. You can imagine that this would all add to the upscale, European feeling, which would make a great place for a date, hint, hint.
Ohhh, the Salade de Chévre Chaud (Goat Cheese Salad). There are a lot of different tastes going on in this salad and Dad and I both noticed that the taste of the salad actually develops over a couple of bites. You might even think you don’t like it first (DAD) but by the second bite, you will be hooked. The apples are cooked in a sweet sauce, and we actually thought they were pears at first. The goat cheese is wrapped in flaky pastry dough and how could you possibly go wrong with that? Even if you’re not a huge fan of goat cheese, the mixtures together make this a salad that you can’t miss. And the honey adds the perfect touch of sweetness to complement the cheese and flaky phyllo dough.
The Brioche Toast appetizer with garlic mushrooms in a garlic cream sauce wins the award for cutest appetizer meal ever. It’s very light and creamy, and the mushrooms are cooked perfectly and not mushy at all. The bread is lightly grilled and seems like a typical peasant food – very simple, yet delicious and satisfying. I may be over-romanticizing this, but I could imagine this being a dish that many families typically eat in Belgium because it’s easy and simple and inexpensive to create. So it gave me this homey feeling eating it, and that is the really weird logic that I use to describe why I think this dish is so cute. Nobody said I was completely sane.
Cassoulette de Moules Asperges. Alright alright alright. If you’ve been following along, you’d know that I’ve eaten my fair share of mussels in my life! And these little guys were great. Typically, the mussels here begin with a sauce made of celery, butter and onion and then you get to pick the type of addition after that. We were served the Mussels in an Asparagus sauce. We had a hard time distinguishing the asparagus from the celery at first, as there was quite a bit of celery, but the sauce was light and a great accompaniment to the mussels (which were perfectly cooked, by the way).
The best part about this meal though was the tricks we learned from our awesome server, Olivier. He is Belgian and has a great sense of humor, so that made for a really enjoyable night for us. And when he caught us eating our mussels with fingers and a fork, all messy and incorrect, he was sure to stop over and give us a jokingly patronizing, “Really? That’s how you’re eating them?” sort of look. In good humor, I asked, “What are we doing wrong THIS time??” And he made sure to chastise us for being so dang American right before he showed us the proper Belgian way to eat mussels!
So, FIRST OF ALL – Olivier tells us that mussels basically come with their own eating utensils – the shells! (Which is slightly morbid if you think about it from the mussels point-of-view, but let’s save the Mollusk Rights discussions for another day). And once you have eaten the meat out of one of the shells, it now becomes the perfect Mussel Picker-Upper for all the subsequent mussels! You just use it like tweezers and you don’t have to look like a fool using a fork of all things to eat with!
AND – they also lend themselves to the perfect organizational strategy, especially if you are an OCD Belgian man named Olivier. After two mussels are eaten, you simply stack the shells around themselves and you have a perfectly civilized method of clean-up, instead of the haphazard just-throw-them-back-in-the-bowl method that we were using.
A lesson from a real Belgian man about how to eat Mussels? Priceless.
One other thing to note about Olivier that was fun is that he says he speaks five languages and then even rattled off the word for “Cheers!” in Hungarian after I told him about my husband being from Hungary. Now THAT is impressive! And I realized that it’s a great skill to be able to say Cheers in a bunch of languages – you’ll always be well-liked wherever you go!
I would be remiss if I didn’t detail the most important part of our whole meal – the Belgian fries! Just look at these beauties. They come in this cute fry holder and are fresh, piping hot and salty when they arrive. They’re super crispy and not-to-be-missed.
And you can’t beat the housemade mayonnaise that they come with. Now I can’t imagine why anyone would shy away from this condiment with fries – it’s the ONLY way I’ll eat them, and it’s truly a creamy, albeit slightly fattening indulgence. Just try it! (because I said so). You can thank me later!
This dish is called the Carbonnades Flamandes which is basically a Flemish stew made with beef and beer. Here, the braised beef cooks for three hours until it literally falls apart. No knife required. The sweet dark sauce that accompanies the beef is made with brown sugar. You can really taste the sweetness here, and it was a different flavor than we expected, though it was quite pleasant! The thing I wished the most while eating, was that it would be the middle of a snowy winter in Michigan outside because this stew is the definition of comfort food. It’s served in a cute little cast-iron pot, and the sauce is just the thing for dipping the fries. A tomato Provençal was a nice little accompaniment next to the stew; a little fresh jolt of freshness with some butter, garlic and herbs. I really tried to imagine that snow outside, but I came up short.
The Chocolate Lava Cake came with a little pot of Belgian chocolate on the side, all warm and melted, another with whipped cream and the last containing delicious vanilla ice cream. When you open up the cake, it falls apart exactly like you would want it to, the chocolate lava spilling out all over the place. The cake itself is pretty flour-y and not super sweet, which I really liked, actually, but it is smooth and creamy and housemade. The chocolate they use is a fine, Belgian chocolate with 70% cocoa. What else could you want in a dessert?
Olivier gave us another schooling on chocolate considering they *are* one of the world masters of chocolate. He chipped off a few pieces of the imported chocolate bars that they use and instructed us to leave it on our tongues to let it dissolve. Dad and I are usually not the restrained types when it comes to food, so this proved to be a bit of a challenge for us, but we both agreed that when savoring the chocolate in this way, it really made us appreciate the deep, rich flavor more. I urge you to pick up some fine dark chocolate and try this yourself!
We were less restrained with the dessert itself.
Olivier brought out a tiny example of the bars they import from Belgium so we could get an idea of what we were dealing with. The real deal!
Cloaked Restaurant Review
This is the part where I have an anonymous review done to critique the entire restaurant experience in a undercover way so that you can get a good idea of what it’s like for the typical restaurant-goer like yourself! It keeps us all honest!! Here’s what they said:
As the name suggests, the Brasserie Belge is an upscale bistro that sits at one of the busiest corners on Main Street. Entering from the street leads you through an outdoor patio, into a warmly decorated and richly appointed bar area, lounge and then the chic dining room. As it happened, the weather was beautiful outdoors with a cool cross-breeze, so we opted for a small table near the courtyard. The adjacent façade is painted to appear more European, and a dancing, silver fountain is found at the end of the courtyard opposite the street. The chairs are deep and comfortable, which is disconcerting at first because so many restaurants try to cycle people in and out. Not only don’t you feel rushed, you specifically feel like taking your time, and enjoying everything they have to offer.
We started with the Croquettes de Homard (Lobster Croquettes) and the Salade de Chevre Chaud. The plate arrived with two lobster croquettes, with mixed greens, tomatoes, and a lemon wedge. First, I tried the croquette on its own and found it to have a pronounced cheese flavor that I hadn’t anticipated. The shell had a nice crunch, balancing against a rich and creamy puree inside, with a hint of lobster. After squeezing the lemon on the greens and tomatoes, I quickly realized that the combination of fresh vegetables, light citrus and the creamy croquettes were perfectly suited to bring out the best of each flavor profile.
The salade de chevre chaud, a salad of romaine lettuce, cucumber, tomato, celery, apple slices and walnuts with a hint of raspberry vinaigrette, was topped with a warm phyllo pastry filled with a combination of goat cheese and shallots, and drizzled with honey. The salad, comprised of choice, fresh ingredients, was crisp and refreshing, allowing each ingredient to contribute its flavor to the mélange. The goat cheese pillow provided a velvety tang that played counterpoint to the flakey pastry and sweet honey. There was a lot going on in this bowl; however, the flavors marry together to create a delicious, yet light, opening to the meal.
Stoemp Saucisses, or Belgian Sausage, is a house specialty that did not disappoint. As sausages go these were quite mild and savory, with no pronounced smokiness. In fact, the simplicity of the sausage was delightful, lightly seasoned ground meat in a natural casing, served with what I can only describe as an au jus reduction. It was like a concentrated concoction of savory and sweet that lent itself to both the sausage and the side dish. Mounded in the middle of the plate was a large helping of potatoes and carrots mashed together, a traditional Belgian preparation, yielding a slightly sweet, textured side dish that counter balanced the savory sausage and gravy.
Vol-au-Vent was the next dish I sampled. It can be made with either monkfish or chicken; I opted for chicken, and was rewarded with one of the most succulent dishes I have ever eaten. The plate arrived with a puff pastry bowl overflowing with large pieces of juicy, light and dark meat chicken, and mushrooms in a creamy, white sauce and a side of Belgian fries. Hidden from view, the bowl was dwarfed by the vast amount of chicken and gravy cascading out of the top. The chicken was fork tender and plentiful, the button mushrooms offering the dish a bit of much needed earthiness. Belgian fries are thick, irregularly cut potatoes, twice fried to create a crunchy outside but soft interior, typically served in a paper cone. These were the perfect example of my favorite kind of fries, satisfying an almost “comfort food”-like craving.
Finally it was time for dessert, and all meals should end like this, full of Belgian dark chocolate. Mousse au Chocolat de chez nous, put simply, Belgian chocolate mousse. Served in a martini glass, this airy, dark chocolate delight was just the right sized serving for one, topped with a dollop of freshly whipped cream.
It was made better only by pairing with a Belgian Chocolate Martini. Indulgent with a smooth finish, it was the drink that kept on giving, requiring a spoon to rescue the chocolate that had been painted in the glass. Gaufres de Liege, hot Belgian waffles served with melted, dark Belgian chocolate and whipped cream. Crispy on the outside, moist and dense inside, these are heartier waffles than most might be used to. In both consistency and flavor they are the perfect delivery system for the semi-sweet liquid chocolate and light whipped cream. Do yourself a favor and get a take-away bag for your main course so you can truly delve into the dessert menu without feeling overly stuffed.
Brasserie Belge offers a little something for everyone, from the different options for seating to the diverse dishes and desserts. It doesn’t cater to a specific demographic, but instead makes everyone feel welcome. The only thing we wanted to note was that the order-taking took a considerable amount of time, but to us, this allowed more time for relaxation. For some in a rush, or not accustomed to the European-style dining, this could be a consideration. They have a Belgium beer list that you would have to go to Brussels to beat, even if it is a bit overpriced. We particularly enjoyed the Westmalle Dubbel, and some lovely cocktails including La Parisienne. The staff is knowledgeable, courteous and professional, and seems to work as a team. The food not only has a depth of flavor, but character that can only be achieved through authenticity.
Cloaked Review Ratings
|Food Quality & Menu|
Go to my Flickr account to check out my Brassierie Belge, Sarasota, FL, Restaurant Review images set to see the full set of pics.