Belgian beer connoisseurs know that The Broken Spoke is the place to go for brews that are difficult to find on draft in Houston: Maredsous Brune, Duchesse De Bourgogne, St. Bernardus Prior 8 and Tripel Karmeliet are just a few of the nearly 20 beers that proprietress Catherine Duwez keeps in constant rotation. And fans of mussels know that she often has some of the best in town.
Duwez is smart: She knows that most of her patrons are coming for moules-frites -- the classic combination of steamed mussels and Belgian frites -- and beer. So she recently added several options to the menu for those who want to do a little exploring while they're at the Spoke.
Adventurous diners can now indulge in two different mussels flights for $28 each: La Route de Calais, which offers 18 mussels and six wine samples, or La Route de Bruxelles, which offers 18 mussels with six beer samples. Both come with a generous bowl of frites. La Complet Belge -- moules marinières, frites and a Stella Artois for $25 -- is still on the menu as well, and remains the most popular item.
Last week, I ordered the flight of mussels on its own -- this knocks a few bucks off the price -- and ordered one Maredsous Brune with my meal. The Belgian beer flight would have to wait for another visit; I wanted to try the flight of mussels uninterrupted.
The flight comes with seven of the eight available varieties of mussels at the Spoke: a l'escargot (with garlic and butter), Provençale (with tomato sauce), Roquefort (with creamy blue cheese sauce), curry, diable (with spicy tomato sauce), estragon (with creamy tarragon sauce) and crème. The eighth variety is still my favorite: a simple pot of steamed mussels in white wine.
But I enjoyed the flight nevertheless, being able to try certain varieties and sauces that I may not necessarily want an entire plate of. I loved the peppery sauce on the moules diables, but it would have been too spicy for a prolonged meal. Ditto the overpowering garlic on the moules a l'escargots. The biggest surprise was the creamy tarragon sauce -- fresh and herbal -- on the moules estragons, something which I will undoubtedly order again en masse. And the twice-fried frites with Duwez's remarkable, citrus-tinged homemade mayonnaise were as reliably good as always.
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My Maredsous Brune was wonderful, all creamy and thick with chocolate and dark berry flavors, but it wasn't an ideal counterbalance to any of the mussels. I sipped off my dining companion's Kwak and felt a tinge of jealousy, vowing to order it instead next time.
It was all resolved, however, by dessert: fat scoops of mocha ice cream topped with hot coffee. The Maredsous had found its food companion and I'd found a few new favorites at an old haunt.