Thursday, May 29, 2014

Eating and Drinking in Brussels, Part I

If you have read this blog at all (or let's be honest, have ever spoken to me) then you know that I love food. It's basically one of my favorite hobbies. Now that doesn't mean that I eat whatever I want when I want; I have busted my ass to lose over 90 pounds and counting calories and eating healthy is a big part of that. But when I am on vacation I allow myself a few indulgences. 

Due to some, shall we say "interesting" circumstances, I discovered I needed to purchase a new car soon after my return from Brussels. Obviously when I booked my trip to Europe I didn't think that I would be dropping a good chunk of my savings on a new car a week later. So when I was in Brussels I was very conscientious about how much I was spending on food and drinks. Thankfully, Google, Yelp, and various ex-pats websites were there to help point me in the right direction for cheap eats.

First up! A place that I wanted to visit during my last trip to Brussels in November, but unfortunately I never found the time to make it. And then when I did stop by on Monday (Armistice Day) it was closed for the holiday along with EVERY OTHER SHOP IN THE STUPID CITY. I mean, really. What kind of country actually closes the shops on federal holidays? These people would make terrible Americans. 

Anyway, the place I am talking about is a tiny Middle Eastern snack counter on the main drag about a 15 minute walk from the Grand Place (the medieval square that is the center of tourist Brussels). It's called Mr. Falafel (best name ever!) and I can't even call it a restaurant since it's a quick service place with like 3 tables. 

But oh my gosh, it is so good. And cheap! For 4.50 euro, you get four big fresh falafel balls served in a delicious toasted wheat pita AND a plastic bowl that you can fill with whatever toppings and sauces you want from the well-stocked salad bar. The salad bar isn't just raw veggies either; there are delicious mixed salads with various oils and vinegars as well as hummus, tzatziki sauce, and other stuff that I can't even remember. 

My pita, falafel, hummus, and salad. You can refill the salad container as many times as you want! And the good stuff is hidden under my lettuce, don't let the boring topper fool you into thinking I didn't try the more adventurous options.

Just step right up to the counter behind the salad bar and order your falafel. I think that is actually the only thing on the menu.

And in case you were wondering how I found this place, I first came across it on the website Spotted by Locals covering the best hidden gems of Brussels. 

Next up, pizza! I know you don't automatically think Belgium when you think great pizza, but in the local chain, Momma Roma, they do pizza right. And a bit differently then we do it here in the States. First, the pizza is built on foccacia bread, unlike other pizza crusts you might be familiar with. This is a most excellent idea in theory and execution. Second, Momma Roma offers super fresh and "fancy" toppings that are more true to Italian cuisine (think spec, amazing cheeses, and more unusual vegetables). And third, the cost is based on weight of the pizza. You order by the slice--which is huge--and the slices are then weighed to determine the cost. The huge slices are then cut into more manageable pieces. 

I actually ordered from the prix fixe menu; for 11 euro you get two slices of pizza (any type you want), a drink, and dessert. This adds up to a lot of food for about $15. And since a can of soda will typically run you about 3 euro in a restaurant, the prix fixe menu is a bargain.

 Momma Roma's order counter and the pizza display.

 Pizza for me and Jonathan; mine was cheeseless but still amazing with the fresh roasted tomatoes and herbs.

 Dessert: chocolate pie. This thing was AMAZING. It was like a warm donut stuffed with gooey chocolate. Seriously, one of the best things I ate on the entire trip.

Let's switch gears and talk about bars! One of my favorite bars that I visited last time was Moeder Lambic. It's a great modern vibe, an awesome beer selection, and as the name suggests lots of lambic beers which are my favorite. It's also one of Jonathan's favorite spots, so we headed back and sat outside to enjoy the Spring sunshine. Brussels is far enough north that the sun doesn't actually set until around 11 at night in late May.

 Cheers! The dude next to me is Martin, a friend of Jonathan's from work. And a fellow ginger!

After a few beers at Moeder Lambic, we headed to a more specialized bar. At Goupil Le Fol, you can wind your way through small red and candle-lit rooms stuffed with French-themed bric-a-brac. The juke box only plays French songs from the 1920s and 1930s, and the entire place makes you feel that you are visiting a cluttered old Parisian salon. The bar specializes in fruit wines and brandies (of course) and they are delicious but deceptively strong. It's an amazing mix of charm, kitsch, and cheesiness. But for me, it leaned more towards the charm.

 Jonathan and Martin!

 One of the rooms at Goupil Le Fol. I seriously loved this place.

Coming up next time: the best frites (fries) in Brussels, an art deco bar, and a good old fashioned Flemish beer hall. Stay tuned!

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