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Good Food and Beer at The Belgian Cafe

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Burger at The Belgian CafeGood food and good beer should always go hand in hand, and at The Belgian Cafe they most definitely do.

After a long afternoon of drinking in the Fairmount section of the city, we voted on a place to go for dinner and The Belgian Cafe was the first and most appealing suggestion. The cafe, situated on the corner of 21st and Green, is most commonly known for its extensive beer selection, with more than 200 bottles and 12 rotating drafts, offering up choices like Bell's Expedition Stout, Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour, Voodoo White Magick of the Sun, or Stoudt's Pils. Beer lovers often flock here for the cornucopia of options, but their food is also a huge draw.

If you didn't intend to eat when you arrive, once glance at the food menu, or a whiff of the mussels as they pass the bar, will make your mouth water and you'll likely change your mind. Once you've entered the hulk red doors, you first step into the dark and dimly lit bar. Bar stools are offered right in front, and a bunch off to the side on a small ledge for additional beer-drinking and socializing seats. The dining room area is off to the right and gives a rather different feel to the space. The walls are painted a bright yellow with orange floral swirls and a few vibrant paintings hang on one wall. A few windows let in the natural light right at the corner.

Fish at The Belgian CafeWe were seated at one of the more than a dozen wooden tables -- this one a pew-style bench with the other side wooden chairs. A bowl full of their famous mussels would have been an obvious choice for dinner, as its The Belgian Cafe and that is, after all, one of the country's specialties. But I opted for the best of both worlds -- mussels bisque and a more heartier meal. For starters, our party of four decided on three appetizers. The mussels bisque, at just $3.50, was a perfect-sized portion of a full cup of creamy soup. The broth wasn't too thick, nor too watery -- a perfect combination of both. While there were only two mussel shells in the cup, the bisque was teaming with more mussel meat -- at least 10 of the suckers crammed into the tiny cup.

A toasted slice of bread was served on the side to soak it all up. They also offered the same delicious soup in bowl size. For the table, we shared the baked sweet potato hummus plate at $7.95, which kind of confused me at first. Were there going to be chick peas and tahini? I wasn't sure. What came out was a creamy and sweet, mashed puree topped with a few chunks of feta cheese and a couple (but not enough) kalamata olives. It was accompanied by a few warm slices of pita bread, cucumbers, red peppers and celery for dipping. I've had my fair share of hummus varieties before but never anything like this.

We also opted to try the smoked trout appetizer at $7.95. The decent-portion of fish was warm and salty, and smothered in a creamy horseradish sauce. The plate was garnished with a bit of spring mix, a few tablespoons of capers, as well as red onions and red peppers on the size. It came with few slices of toasted bread to pile everything on top of. Even those who weren't crazy about fish found it enjoyable. Other appetizer offerings included sauteed sea scallops, a gourmet cheese plate, and vegan options like a vegetarian spring roll or vegan BBQ wings.

Veggie Plate at The Belgian CafeThere's a few interesting salads to chose from like a smoked duck salad, steak frites salad, or a white bean salad for vegetarians, but we decided to dive right into dinner. Some of the main plates seemed rather interesting, like the Brugge Fish stew (a mix of seafood in a cream sauce opped with whipped potatoes and sharp cheese), Chicken Roulade (a locally raised chicken breast stuffed with Chimay belgian cheese, spinach and ham), or Pork Schnitzel (breaded pork cutlets pan fried in a mustard cream sauce with apple braised cabbage and mashed potatoes.) They were all rather affordable, between $12 and $18, but since some of the main dishes lacked explanation of whether it came with a side or not, I opted to go for the safer, filling bet -- a hearty burger. Seven different varieties are offered for their burger choices, and you can choose from beef, chicken breast or veggie burger - each of $8.25 regardless of the style.

I love beef so there was no debating there, but it did however take me a few minutes to decide on the Monk's burger -- caramelized leeks and bleu cheese. My runner up was the Brouwer, which came with sauteed onions, mushrooms and goat cheese. The burger came out medium, just as asked, and the other three diners with us who also ordered burgers seemed pleased with their temps as well. The burger was juicy, the bun was hearty, but offered a bit too much bread than what I needed. I opted to add on a side of fries for $2 extra but in the end I wasn't so sure it was worth it. It would have been nice if it were offered with the burger, because the sandwich looked pretty sorry on the plate all by itself without even a pickle or other sides. The fries were hot and crispy, but kinda skinny and pretty short. I've had better. The sauces were served with it -- some kind of tangy mayo blend and a smoky marinara -- were tasty and helped make up for it. The non-burger eater with us that day opted for the Reuben at $8.95 which surprisingly came out as a closed sandwich, rather than the typical open face. The corned beef was darker and cooked longer than what we've normally seen, but it was delicious nonetheless. Smothered in Swiss cheese, with a crispy buttery bread, you can't go wrong. The Reuben however, did come with a small side of red onion and carrot slaw.

Next time I'll come back just for the mussels.

 

Address: 

The Belgian Cafe 21st and Green

Philadelphia, PA 215-235-3500

www.thebelgiancafe.com 

Hours: 

Lunch and dinner
11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.. or 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday

Saturday and Sunday Brunch
11 -4:30 p.m.