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With Houston's History of Wonderful Belgian Food, Why Is Café Brussels All It Has Left?

The food at Café Brussels is more cafeteria than cafe.

Other condiments and sauces at Café Brussels are similarly alluring. Though the moules themselves seemed small and underdeveloped, the four different varieties of sauces I ordered on my mussels sampler were full of depth and flavor. La route de Bruxelles features mussels in a spicy tomato sauce, a more mild tomato and herb dressing, a creamy curry and a thick Roquefort cheese sauce. Each topping had a unique flavor profile, and I found myself unable to choose a favorite. One moment it was the Roquefort, then as soon as I had another bite of the spicy tomato sauce that became the one to beat.

The menu at Café Brussels contains far more than mussels and frites, however, and I suspect this overly ambitious menu is one of the restaurant's problems. There's a long list of meat dishes — from steak tartare to meat loaf to stews — none of which are particularly thrilling, and all of which, I suspect, would benefit from a generous dousing of the same Roquefort sauce that's served on the mussels. The meat itself isn't bad at all, but it tends to be overcooked, as do the vegetables served with it.

The petits choux de Bruxelles (Brussels sprouts) were so mushy I could have whipped them into a Thanksgiving side dish, and the haricots verts (green beans) were similarly soft and lacked the crispness of ripe, springy bean pods.

La route de Bruxelles allows diners to sample mussels prepared in a variety of ways. The dish comes with a flight of Belgian beers.
Troy Fields
La route de Bruxelles allows diners to sample mussels prepared in a variety of ways. The dish comes with a flight of Belgian beers.

Location Info

Map

Cafe Brussels

1718 Houston Ave.
Houston, TX 77007

Category: Restaurant > Belgian

Region: Heights

Details

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Les escargots de Bourgogne: $12
La soupe à l'oignon: $7
La salade d'endives: $9
Moules marinières: $24
La route de Bruxelles: (18 assorted mussels with a flight of beer) $28
Le petit pavé de Bruxelles: $30
Le Waterzooi de poulet: $20
Les petits choux de Bruxelles: $7
Mousse au chocolat: $8
Prix fixe Sunday brunch: $18



For more on Café Brussels, check out the following:

Slideshow: A Closer Look at Café Brussels
Blog: Bring Me Beer at Café Brussels


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And then, of course, there's the brunch, which became for me — and, it seemed, the other diners in the restaurant who were downing pint after pint of Belgian brews — much more about the beer than the food. Between the desiccated steak and the croque-madame reminiscent of school-lunch grilled cheese, nothing I tried that day except the beer allowed me to mentally escape to Belgium.

The shrimp croquettes covered in some sort of unidentifiable brown sauce and oozing a similarly flavorless white sauce prompted one of my dining companions to launch into an ode to the food at IKEA, which he considered comparable, in that both resemble international diner food. My other dining companion gave up eating altogether after he tried an overly salty and dry slice of toast topped with marinated mushrooms (even they couldn't save it). Dessert was no better, with a Belgian waffle — a food I love so much when it's made properly — tasting like dried-out Bisquick topped with quickly melting canned whipped cream.

"Why am I wasting calories on this?" I thought. "Bring me more beer!"
_____________________

In a study conducted by Forbes magazine, Belgium ranked high on a list of the happiest countries in the world. It has a rich cultural heritage of brilliant artists such as Jan Van Eyck and scientists like Gerardus Mercator. An estimated 99 percent of its population is literate. Gouda cheese was invented there, for goodness' sake. No wonder the people are happy.

And yet, something about Café Brussels strikes me as sad. The restaurant isn't full. The servers seem to be phoning it in, leaving water glasses unfilled and plates uncleared. The food is hit-or-miss. An hour before closing time on a Sunday, the staff started lowering blinds and stacking chairs, as if in defeat.

But in those moules marinières and frites I see a glimmer of hope. Someone with a stove, a fryer and some spices knows what he or she is doing. Someone understands flavor and texture and the basics of European cuisine. Someone has the means to make Café Brussels live up to its potential and to rival the quality of the wonderful, ­authentic Belgian cafes that came before.

It's already got an impressive selection of some of the best beer in the world. Now it just needs the culinary chops to match.

kaitlin.steinberg@houstonpress.com

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23 comments
larry2100
larry2100

My wife and I ate at Cafe Brussels last week and had mussels and frites.  The food and service was outstanding. 

morningmist337
morningmist337

I have to say I've always enjoyed dining at Cafe Brussels. Although I've never had Sunday brunch.

Ollebol
Ollebol

Yep....we had the same disappointing experience during the Sunday brunch. Running out of beers, serving other food then ordered and charging more than the brunch price. To be honest if you want to have a great and pretty original croque madame, I recommend the Blacksmith on Westheimer. Try!

jayneyrdz
jayneyrdz

I often dine at Cafe Brussels and the food is always excellent!

TimP
TimP

Notwithstanding the health of the owner, I always recall her being mostly front of house at Café Montrose.  Then, when Jeanine's and Broken Spoke were both open, after having had several meals at both, Jeanine's became my regular choice because it was always spot on while Broken Spoke could be hit or miss in a similar manner as described in this review. I sorely miss Jeanine's and Café Montrose.

AdAbsurdum
AdAbsurdum

It would be interesting indeed to find out Ms Steinberg's source for gouda being invented in Belgium and not in Holland.

Anse
Anse

I hate to say it, because I really wanted to love the Broken Spoke, but this review is not unlike the experiences I had at that earlier Belgian restaurant on Washington Ave. I couldn't believe the bread was so lousy. It was literally like day-old bread from the grocery store. I'm surprised they didn't get enough complaints about it to improve for this place.

kindofblue42
kindofblue42

Catherine Duwez, the owner and Chef is currently fighting for her life back home.  She is not there to supervise the kitchen and it is only normal for the staff to be somewhat down.  If the Food critic had done the research properly this would have been known.  Maybe it was and the critic in question has no heart and likes to punch people when they are down.

erichenao
erichenao

Shame. Next time go to Stanton's for a burger and then drive up to Brussels for the beer. Boom.

Lynaenovo
Lynaenovo

Sorry you had such a lack luster experience. We've never done the Sunday Brunch, only dinner. We've had a few slow staff experiences, but were often with larger groups who want to sit & chat, so it hasn't been a problem. Have always found the traditional steamed mussels to be very good (not a fan of sauces). I know that Catherine was out of the country & am wondering if she was there the day you went?

Brazos
Brazos

I've gotten the mussels there and was shocked at how small they were.  Back to the Black Lab!

3giants
3giants

Sounds like u were one of the lucky one's, or a bias friend.

giacometti
giacometti

@AdAbsurdum 


Back when gouda was "invented" (is cheese invented?) we can safely assume there were no clear cut nation-states like today. 

Derrington
Derrington

@kindofblue42

What are you talking about? Fighting for her life? First I've heard of this, though I've heard of plenty of fights she's engaged in. Does the staff announce this before one dines? Or how should a critic know this? 

AdAbsurdum
AdAbsurdum

@giacometti @AdAbsurdum  


Since Steinberg used "invented" in this article to refer to the origins of cheese, any awkwardness should be addressed with the erudite food critic.


The city of Gouda was in the county of Holland that was part of the Holy Roman Empire, so, Gouda is and has always been in Holland. If anyone wants to argue publicly that Gouda cheese is Belgian, it will certainly be entertaining.

AdAbsurdum
AdAbsurdum

@Derrington @kindofblue42 It's been on the restaurant's Facebook page for months. Perhaps someone should have taken a peek just for the sake of journalism.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@giacometti @AdAbsurdum I'm currently reading a book about cheese, and it debates the origin of Gouda in Holland, in spite of the fact that there's a city named Gouda there. But you're right, the review should have been more clear about the fact that it may have been invented in Belgium. Or I could have picked another cheese. I don't think that negates the argument that Belgium is awesome though.

giacometti
giacometti

@AdAbsurdum @giacometti 


When WAS Gouda invented?

I've read that it was brought to Gouda by an itinerant Belgian monk, who carried it in a paper satchel.

3giants
3giants

Last I knew a food critic's job is to try the food, and generally write a review is about service, food quality & value. They aren't meant to research Facebook for the sake of journalism. Stupid.

3giants
3giants

Oh, how sad. MAYBE she should have invested in a "chef" & "manager", if she actually cared about the business.

giacometti
giacometti

@AdAbsurdum @Derrington @kindofblue42 


So maybe the restaurant should post a disclaimer to those who venture in looking for a good meal and paying full price?

"We apologize: Our owner is abroad on personal business and therefore your experience will suffer greatly versus if she were here."

kmaher23
kmaher23

@AdAbsurdum @Derrington @kindofblue42  Apparently the restaurant employees are taking advantage of their boss's sad situation.  What a pity they are letting her down....

 
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