Food & Travel / Words & Photos
Fueled on gelato and strong espresso, I take a sunset run through town and down into the canyon. Past the chapel dug into the canyon wall and west toward Modica. Nobody but the goats go beyond the shepherd’s farm.
I forget how wild it is out here. There are pomegranate plants, boughs bent with plump, almost-ripe fruit, wild herbs, particularly a form of sage that’s got a near-fruity smell and cactus full of prickly pear are everywhere. Dried carob beans litter the ground, thistles dot the trail and an owl-like bird I’ve never seen flies out of the trees and toward the sun.
I come to my turnaround point, legs nicked from the thick, high tufts of grass and turn on Green Day. The right music makes you feel like you’ve got rockets on your feet. I go as fast as I can the whole run home, thinking I’m going to lose it on a rock and they’ll hear the pop of my ankle echo down the canyon. Instead, I grunt, snort and make animal noises all the way back - who’s going to hear me? It’s the best run of the year.
Past the shepherd’s place, I pass a teenage couple, the air thick with hormones and perfume.
Staring at me, she shrieks “L’uomo lupo!”
I howl obligingly.
Back in town, the sky purple after the sunset, noisemaking fireworks detonate in the air. Pigeons scatter into the air and school kids in uniform play soccer in a church square. A pair of widows dressed in black walk toward me and say good night to each other and turn in opposite directions, giving the scene an unintentional symmetry.
I’m back in the Motherland. It’s time to eat.
Last blog in Belgium Beer and Fries week! (Or was it ‘Brussels Beer & Fries’?) No better way to end than a final round or two in Brugges…
Thanks to our great B&B’s beer selections, a belly full of Brussels’ best (where I confirmed I’m more of a gueuze and lambic guy than a Trappist type) and a short time frame, we only sipped suds on the town on one night.
We’d been tipped off that Lokkedize was the spot people from town go to hide from the tourists and found that though there isn’t an enormous selection, beer is the drink of choice. On this night, there’s a great Straffe Hendrik from the town’s Brouwerij de Halve Maan. The food, though it didn’t look like anything to write home about looked like a good, inexpensive option.
Heading back to the B&B, we walked in front of De Republiek, a bar with just the right amount of people, just the right amount of light, just the right amount of noise and a great beer list. Somebody by themselves could come into this big space without feeling self conscious and a group of friends could enjoy a conversation without shouting.
We looked at each other and went in without a word.
The beer list was good enough to have Boon’s Oud Gueuze - a beer that’s been barrel aged for a few years then put in a bottle and stored for a few more. I had one (33 oz.) then another (25 oz.). What can I say? It was my last night in Belgium.
Before we left, I took a sniff and a sip (both deep). I could come up with a set of descriptors, but it was better than that. It smelled good. It made me smack my lips and smile. Maybe it was the alcohol talking, but I said, “This is pretty perfect.”
Lokkedize - MAP
Korte Vulderstraat 33
+32 (0)50 33 44 50
The front of the menu says both “Hard to find and worth the discovery” and “We appreciate cash.”
Finding good accommodations online is as fun as buying a plane ticket. In Bruges, where seemingly every other business is a hotel catering to the legions of tourists who descend on this place in the warmer months, it’s particularly intimidating.
To avoid losing a day, I give myself 15 minutes and a budget, opening tabs left and right off of the helpful brugge.be Web site and doing a quick process of elimination.
God bless the off season - I’m now two for two at finding great B&Bs in Belgium.
The full day we’re at ‘t Koetshuis - the one you’d imagine spending all day wandering around one of Europe’s most beautiful cities? Well, the little guest house has a bath, a patio that looks out onto a canal, a fireplace, a big couch and a huge selection of beer; we spend most of the day lolling around, not feeling like we’re missing out at all.
I also like that it’s a pair of professionals - two child psychologists - running the place. Clearly, they don’t need to be doing this, but they’re generous with their time and have plenty of good recommendations for where to go in town.
Next time I’m here, booking will consist of one phone call.
‘t Koetshuis MAP
One suggestion: go with friends or family: the guesthouse has two rooms upstairs and a the common room (with the fire and the kitchen) downstairs. If the other room was occupied by people you didn’t know, I could imagine the lolling around part being a little awkward.
The idea was to do a Belgian blog a day until it’s over (it’s almost over), but one or two of you may have noticed that ‘404 Not Found’ notice on these pages 24 hours ago. As my good friend Jerry Romano likes to say: “I turned and there he was…gone!”
Without further ado, it’s time for dinner in Bruges.
There’s a bit of sticker shock when you get here - your eyes go wide when they gaze up the beauty of the architecture and stay wide when they look down at the prices on the menu. The price of UNESCO status, I suppose.
On a tip and without much time to choose - they’re early eaters up this way - we head to De Wijngaart, just outside of where most visitors stray. The restaurant stays smart and honest in a town catering to so many out of towners that you have to watch your step.
It’s a treat to watch the guy at the grill which is cleverly placed at the center of the tiny dining room; his heat tolerance must be legendary in these parts. With stubby red fingers, he uses a long-handled cinder rake to move coals under the grill, giving him great heat control. It’s a very clever system.
What I also like is that while you’re eating your entrée, the grill man’s got your cut coming to room temperature, instead of going from the fridge to the flames.
One tic: the waiter asks if I want my steak medium rare, I say ‘rare’ and it comes out medium, but it’s still good enough that it doesn’t matter. We also have a salad using bacon that’s grilled right next to my steak that’s worth it just for the salty goodness of the meat.
Dessert? Too sweet. We eat it with a smile.
How much? We did some creative ordering, had a few beers and got out of there for 20 euros a head. Hungry eaters should count on about 30.
I love this kind of place: old, out of the way and authentic. La Bonne Humeur is a spiritual cousin to the American diner, right down the splotch of Formica worn white by the thousands of Dutch ovens and plates set in front of every seat.
What’s cooking? Millions of mussels, a google of frites, too many Jupiler drafts to remember!
Here in the house of moules et frites, the offerings do not disappoint. The mussels are magnificent. What appears to be important is not which sauce (marinière? Green peppercorn?) but that you pause to spoon some of the buttery, fennel-y goodness up from the bottom and pour it over the top.
The fries, part of my five consecutive meal fry extravaganza, cause the group buffoon to shout “McDonalds!” when he first tastes them - which made me want to hit the dirt in case knives came flying from the kitchen … even if there’s a grain of truth to it. ‘McDonald’s in heaven’ is much more appropriate.
The clever can save money by ordering smaller numbers of bigger portions. Three larger portions - they are ordered by the kilo or kilo and half - are plenty for the five of us, buffoon included.
Count on about 30 euros and, as it’s in a funny neighborhood and not too close to a Metro stop, take a cab.
La Bonne Humeur - MAP
Chaussée de Louvain 244
+32 02 230 71 69
My word, what a mess.
The “If You Go” recommendation from my Globe lambic story that said “Skip the food, have a drink and move on” was more accurate than I thought.
A La Mort Subite - French for “sudden death” - is a Brussels landmark bar and restaurant, replete with scores of beer and a beautiful hall for quaffing.
Disasters on this scale are tricky to explain, so let’s stick to the facts.
I joined a group of fifty for dinner - we had the upstairs hall to ourselves, a bit too exclusively. Though one guy ran the occasional tray or two of beer up the stairs, here was one waitress assigned to us. One.
She was heroic in her efforts, but at the end of the day, she was all alone. For most of us, it took two hours for our food - salads and omelets - to arrive.
As a restaurateur who has likely known for weeks that a group of 50 is coming for dinner, how do you screw up that badly? If feeding 50 people à la carte (as we did) is beyond your capacity, why not say so and propose another option? Why not make sure you have the staff to keep the beer flowing and the food moving? Why not have the chef chop up a few tomatoes ahead of time?
At the one hour 45 minute mark, I looked over at a friend who had an expression on his face that said, ‘shoot me.’
“You’d better write about this,” he sighed.
A la Mort Subite
rue Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères 7
+32 (0)2 513 13 18
Part by design, part by chance, I had fries at five meals in a row in Brussels, including one breakfast.
This might rile some feathers, but what’s funny is that the Bruxellois don’t seem terribly picky about their fry stands as long as their frites are done right: fried once to cook them through, then a second time to crisp up the edges at a hotter temperature.
My two faves come from dedicated places outside the center, often surrounded by pimply students who make lunches out of fried meat sandwiches called mitraillettes – pure roach coach grub ‘machine guns’ topped with a few fries and drowned in the sauce of your choosing. Let your eyes alone do the feasting.
Here, the fries are thick, stubby, soft, crispy and salty - the kind of things that have you walking along, gazing up at the city and chuckling to yourself, thinking ‘I’m eating fries in Brussels’ as you pop another another in your mouth.
Friterie de la Place de la Chapelle - MAP
Place de la Chapelle
First ones I had on this trip. Breakfast, bien sûr!
Friterie de la Barriere - MAP
5, Avenue du Parc
Last year, one of my favorite, accidental and off-the-map finds was Chez Moeder Lambic up above the wonderful Parvis Saint-Gilles.
This year, I herded the cats again, this time to the Moeder Lambic’s new downtown outpost - Moeder Lambic Fontainas - with 46 beers on tap.
It was empty.
“Sometimes you don’t have to go to the perfect place,” says the group buffoon. I wanted to punch him in the nose, only partially because he was right. Nothing deflates my balloon like bringing a gang of foodies to a place that looks like it might be a dud.
Despite the relatively flashy look - at least compared to their, er, Moeder ship - selection and service are impeccable. There are scads of Cantillon beers on tap (MMMM!!!!) and even the younger members on the staff know their product cold. Even the buffoon can’t flap our waitress. Compared to what’s available in the center of the city, this is a great addition.
Moeder Lambic Fontainas - MAP
Place Fontainas, 8-10