Food, Beer, and Travel

a dump from the mind of Jon Piper

Posts Tagged ‘Belgium’

Brussels – Brasserie Cantillon

Posted by jwpiper on February 10, 2009

Based on what I’d heard about the place and how much I love their beer, Cantillon was a must stop while I was in Brussels. I wasn’t sure how I was going to fit it into my day, but I was committed to at least peek my head in.

The brewery is just outside a shopping district in Brussels where every street was double parked on both sides. Needless to say, I spent a good bit of time to even find an illegal parking spot within a couple of blocks of the brewery. Finally, I approached the building which gave no indication that it was open, but a push on the door revealed a strange old industrial building.

From how the brewers spoke with me, it was clear that they’re used to relative newbies. They kept referring to “real” and “traditional” lambic trying to feel out my familiarity with their style. It took some insistence before they were made to understand that not only do I enjoy their style of beer, I love their beer!

The sister of one of the brewers started my on my self-guided tour through the brewing process. As I’d been told, this brewery tour isn’t quite like every other tour I’ve been on. But more than that – being there was a unique experience for me. I felt like a guest in their home – like they had opened up a deeply personal part of their lives to me. And indeed, with the reverent way they speak of the beer and the brewing process, brewing is exactly that for each of them.

They spoke of leaving the beer to its natural course and not modifying or manipulating the process in any way. It reminded me of how the first “brewers” thought of beer: as a gift from God. Indeed, it’s been theorized that manna was an beer-porridge. For millennia didn’t know what turned sugars to alcohol – they were just thankful for it. Not too different than my experience that day.

After the unique tour, I was treated to several small samples of their standard beers, including the gueuze and kriek. The other couple that wandered the brewery more or less alongside me were stopped there. However, I was also treated with a sample of a rhubarb lambic which they had “brewed on a whim” – it was so clean and a natural combination. They were out of the faro which is also usually part of the sample list, but when I asked if they had any young lambic, she wandered off and came back with a pitcher of it. It was so delicious, I had to buy a full glass. I finished out my day with a bottle of the St. Lamvinus. This seems to be a very well respected beer which I’d never yet tried partly due to the prices in the US, which can exceed $40 a bottle.

I had committed on this trip to spend more time with the lambics. I would love to have a closer look at Drie Fonteinen or Frank Boon’s operation, but my trip to Cantillon was one of best beer experiences I’ve had. Indeed, the young lambic was one of the best beers I’ve ever had. The respect the Van Roy’s have for beer demands equal respect from any visitor.


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Brussels – Rugbyman Two

Posted by jwpiper on February 9, 2009

Having been tipped off by a colleague that the best place for seafood in Brussels is near St. Catherine’s church and having also gotten the heads up from the folks I met at Kulminator, I had to check it out. So it was my first stop on my way down from Antwerp.

I had been told that one side of the road is a more refined experience (and thus pricier) than the other, so my natural inclination was to find the cheaper side and eat there. As I was looking at the menus, I happened upon my new friends, so I decided to pop into the same restaurant. Plus, the place where they were had goose livers on the menu: an Belgian speciality I’ve been searching for. Alas, after sitting down, I learned they were out.

I pieced together a simple meal from the menu. I started with Le cappuccino de bisque de homard a l’Armagnac, or lobster bisque with brandy, which was bright with a bit of spice and some nice lobster chunks. The lobster itself wasn’t terribly impressive as compared with the Maine lobsters with which I have the most familiarity. Served alongside the bisque were several chunks of perfect french bread.

My second course was Le tartare de saumon et thon rouge, ciboulette et concombre, or salmon and tuna tartare. This was the highlight of the meal: its simplicity highlighted the freshness of the fish and the bright onions and refreshing cucumbers were an excellent accompaniment.

I finished with La surprise normande flambée au calvadose, an apple pie flambé in a Calvadose syrup and topped with vanilla ice cream, which was rather rich and sweet.

In all, it was a very good meal, but given the amount of food I consumed, probably not worth the cost. I don’t know that the prices across the street were as substantially different as was described to me, but they were definitely better. Again, I’d also personally steer away from the Belgian lobster. It was good, but not as good as its much cheaper counterpart on the northern Atlantic coast of the US.

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Antwerp – Bolleke De Koninck

Posted by jwpiper on February 8, 2009

Well, before leaving Antwerp for Brussels, I had to give their legendary local beer a crack. And what better way to do so than in a local neighborhood pub? Based on what I’ve heard about Antwerp and De Koninck, I figured I could get it in just about any bar, so I ducked into one for lunch. I decided not to get to fancy and to order “De Koninck and Croque Monsignoir”. Well the ham and cheese sandwich was delivered without incident, but to go along was a tonic water. Glancing around proved that this bar didn’t serve De Koninck at all.

So I decided to drive the streets until I found a place with a De Koninck sign. Boy was I in for a surprise. The bar I found had three people there who were evidently celebrating one of their birthdays by drinking an absolutely excessive amount of good Belgian beer straight from the bottle. Ever had a Duvel out of the bottle? That’s one carbonated beverage. This time, I ordered “bolleke of De Koninck”. After berating me for my poor Flemish and teaching me the proper pronunciations and phrasing, I was presented the object of my search – a bolleke. De Koninck proved to be a very drinkable beer – nothing too special, but an easy daily drinker. Several stories in broken English, overly friendly hugging with strangers, and €1.60 later, I was all too ready to move on with an experience I won’t soon forget.

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Antwerp – Afspanning ‘t Waagstuk

Posted by jwpiper on February 8, 2009

As an interlude between visits to Kulminator, we grabbed a bite at Afspanning ‘t Waagstuk. Given that the place is better known as a bar with food, I took the opportunity to try a classic Belgian dish: stoemp. Actually, while the decision was somewhat motivated by my recent experience in Amsterdam with the Dutch version of this dish, I was also influenced by the fact that there wasn’t much more compelling on the menu.

If ever there was peasant food – this is it. Basically, it’s mashed potatoes with spices. In Holland, even with it all gussied up, it really wasn’t anything too special. Indeed, it screamed peasant food with dressing. But here, at ‘t Waagstuk, we had a simple rendition. It looked like a hefty pile of mashed potatoes with some green vegetable topped with a nice thick piece of bacon. Well, that’s exactly what it was. Except the potatoes were nicely spiced (there was nutmeg among other things) and the bacon was deliciously smoked.

I enjoyed a bottle of Cantillon Gueuze 100% Bio Lambic alongside it, which was nice to cut the heaviness of the dish.

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Antwerp – Kulminator

Posted by jwpiper on February 7, 2009

Given its reputation as one of the best places to have a beer in the world, I had to give Kulminator in Antwerp a visit while I was in Belgium. Stepping in, the bar appears tiny. There were probably 5 tables with about 5 seats each and another 5 stools at the bar. It was fairly empty when I arrived in the middle of the evening, so I grabbed a seat at an empty table and tried to scrounge up an aged bottle menu.

After one of the friendly proprietors dropped it off, it took me a while to figure out what to order. There were a ton of interesting beers of many vintages, and mostly at pretty reasonable prices. In the middle of the bar is a large book of beers which declare that in 2004 or thereabouts they had some 4500 beers or somesuch. I doubt the list is up to date, but clearly they’ve got a ton more beers than on their normal menu. A visit to the bathroom proves that probably half of the space in this bar is taken up by the beer itself. The properietor even pulled down a Three Floyds Darklord and a Sam Adams Trippelbock just to show he had them. It actually begs the question whether Delerium Cafe’s Guinness Book of World Records title is appropriate. Seems Kulminator is your best chance at finding just about any Belgian beer just about anywhere in Belgium. My personal favorites which are tough to come by even in Belgium include Westvleteren 12 (didn’t notice if they had the Blond or 8 as well) and several Struise offerings.

I met some folks who I ended up spending the rest of the evening with, and met back up the next day in Brussels. We enjoyed some delicious beers at Kulminator – some aged, some fresh. And I’ll be trying to work in visits to Kulminator on any future Belgium trips.

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Brussels – In ‘t Spinnekopke

Posted by jwpiper on February 5, 2009

Many of my best and most memorable meals in Brussels have been courtesy of a tiny French-speaking restaurant on the south-west side of city center.

The attitude is completely as you would expect out of a restaurant near Paris. The food is completely Belgian. And therin lies the charm. I don’t care you could smack me and spit in my face… if you feed me food like that, you’re alright by me. It’s just a bonus that they do none of the above (except purvey incomparable food) and equally fortunate that they’ve begun to recognize me, the self-proclaimed king of self-branding.

I start with an apéritif of Drie Fontenien Oude Kriek. For my meal, I order the same thing Andy did on his first visit: Coq Spinnekopke. It’s roasted leg and thigh of hen in a beer, cream mushroom sauce paired of course with pommes frites. Should I attempt this at home, as I very well may, I would try to crisp the skin on the hen before adding it to the gravy. That was just about my only suggestion for improving on the succulent, rich dish. I paired it with a Rochefort 10.

So worthy an apéritif sticks in your mind even after the meal, so when I saw sorbet a la kriek on the dessert list, I had to see what that was all about. First taste: “holy crap!”. This is perfect. Sour, a bit sweet with chunks of sour cherries, and more cherry pit flavor even than the beer. Perfect, I say.

In ‘t Spinnekopke you’ve bested yourself yet again. I will be back and not soon enough for me.

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