Seeing as October is for so many a time to let summer slip away and welcome the chill autumn air with, well, beer, may I recommend you spend at least part of your personal Oktoberfest at Café Bruges in Carlisle.
Located just off the town square within walking distance of Dickinson College, this Belgian restaurant, and especially its selection of beers and ales, is a real education in entertaining, casual and different dining.
Not to be confused with the excellent black comedy In Bruges, a 2008 film (which I also recommend) starring Colin Farrell and Ralph Fiennes about two hit men hiding out in Belgium, this cafe meets the true triple-F definition of a Flemish eatery: fun, friendly and filling.
If you’re not an expert in Belgian beer and ale — there are Trappist ales, blonde ales, wheat beers, double and triple ales, lambics and seasonals — both the menu and your server can be your guide.
I highly recommend a sampler of four of the usually six types offered on draft. It’s served in its own rack, four five-ounce glasses for $10. It’s fresh and delicious and enough for two diners to share and get a real sense of which type of ale or beer one prefers.
Our server was patient in helping decide which of six drafts to pick from and in describing in detail each sample we picked. In fact, service throughout the meal was informed, attentive and professional, especially for a little place tucked away on a side street in a small town.
For the beer/ale fan, you can look forward to Hoegaarden Wit, Chimay Grand Reserve, Delirium Nocturnam and so much more.
After the sampler I settled on a Brugse Zot, the hoppy house ale, $8; a dining partner opted for the lighter Blanche de Bruxelles, a wheat and orange-rind beer for $7.
Speaking of must-haves, do not pass up the $5 frites offered as an appetizer. These are wonderful hand-cut, twice-fried potatoes served in a tall paper cone and with various sauces. And they, of course, go well with beer.
Also, don’t pass up the mussels; more on them later.
The overall menu is eclectic and offers choices from appetizers to entrees, from dinner salads to sandwiches.
The atmosphere is industrial chic, noisy but nice with a tin ceiling, well-worn hardwood floors, drop lighting, solid wood tables and chairs, a nice bar at one end and lots of interesting wall art, as well as Belgian beer signs and banners.
Appetizers other than frites include a tomato stuffed with shrimp and mayo ($10); leek tarte ($8); fried Gruyère and Parmesan croquettes with parsley and lemon (also $8); a mixed green salad ($5) or soup of the day, a cup or a bowl for $5 or $8, depending.
Large-enough-to-make-a-meal salads include the Liège salad, a warm green-bean, potato and bacon salad with a shallot-parsley vinaigrette dressing ($9), a frisée salad of curly endive with goat cheese, bacon, tomato and a warm bacon dressing (also $9) or a salad niçoise for $10.
Now to the mussels: big in Bruges (the city and the cafe), mussels are served here by the pound at $10 per order and are prepared either with mustard and cream; with wheat beer; with ale, garlic, leeks and bacon; Thai-style with coconut and red curry; Provençal with tomato, basil, onion and celery; or Bruges-style with white wine, shallots, butter and parsley.
I say, when in Bruges... If you say the same, you won’t be disappointed.
Most entrees are priced in the high teens, and a real value. Ours were excellent. I had “stoemp saucisse” ($17) — seasoned mashed potatoes, carrots, cabbage and leeks served together in the center of assorted sausages with a wonderful side of mustard. The portion is more than generous. One large sausage came home for breakfast.
A dining partner had high praise for an off-menu special, “chicken vol au vent” — local fricasséed chicken with Belgian endive and Gruyère cheese sauce and a side salad.
Other regular entrees include two pounds of steamed mussels served in a large crock with an order of fries ($19); a light creamy fish stew, “waterzooi of fish,” made with snapper, scallops, shrimp and veggies ($18); an eight-ounce sirloin steak with frites ($19); and a Flemish beef stew cooked with dark ale and served with parsley potatoes ($17).
The sandwiches range from $7 for a veggie burger served with lettuce, tomato, onion, Gruyère cheese and chips, to $12 for a crab cake sandwich with either tartar or cocktail sauce. There’s also a grilled chicken sandwich, a lamb burger or a beef burger (with locally raised beef). All sandwiches are served on a toasted roll.
And even if you don’t have room for dessert, which likely you won’t, the aroma of Belgian waffles will convince you otherwise. It’s a total boardwalk smell, and they look astonishingly good. Maybe just one to share. Made fresh, topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit and accompanied by a side of Belgian dark chocolate sauce. There are other desserts but, I mean, come on.
Go to Café Bruges. You won’t regret it.
16 N. Pitt St., Carlisle; accepts major cards and reservations; street parking; open for lunch and dinner daily; 717-960-0223; cafebruges.com.
Published in Phantom Diner
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