220 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
(212) 575-2337

Belgium and beer. They are inseparable. When I went to Belgium a few years ago, beer was our focus. Breweries, Trappist ales, ancient bars with beer lists like phone books, mussels... cooked in beer. Also, lots of waffles. To be sure, there are other Belgian restaurants in the city, like Petite Abeille, on First Avenue, where I often find myself on lazy summer evenings reading at one of their outdoor tables. A book, a bottle of Chimay, some fries and mayonnaise. That is a little slice of heaven.

Belgian Beer Café, a little west of there by Madison Square Park is more energetic. The after work crowd pours in thick and it gets loud. Not scream-your-conversation-loud, but you won't be reading. I went here with Speeds not too long ago for a little catch-up dinner. We were, to my great shock, given a table with ease. "I'm going to have a beer," she said. "Well, most of one. I don't really like beer, but when I have Belgian food, I feel obligated." I finished her drink, in case you were wondering (you were). As an aside, I could go on for a while about how I feel that saying "I don't like beer" is painting with too broad a brush, like saying "I don't like snack food" but I will not, even though it drives me up a wall.

Belgian Beer Café (which I will refrain from calling "BBC" for reasons you'll be able to deduce after doing a filter-free Google image search), you can imagine, has a huge beer selection and the staff knows how to describe each one. I give them a lot of credit. That's something I doubt that I could ever do. I can barely tell a pilsner from a lager.

Sometimes, I find myself ordering certain standards again and again. Roast chicken, grilled octopus, panna cotta. I worry that I am boring and predictable, and while I probably am, there was no way that I could avoid ordering the Escargots appetizer. It had been too long since my last indulgence. Belgian Beer Café  serves their escargot in a very atraditional way. No little ceramic dish with a half dozen garlic-butter-soaked snail under a pesto-Parmesan crust. Here, the escargot I served with the pesto inside of a mushroom, beside a small piece of toast. While it was cute, and well presented, and looked interesting, it was kind of boring in the mouth. Mostly, you can only taste the mushroom. Speeds chose the far more interesting Abby Cheese Croquettes, a flavor explosion. This is what bar food is supposed to be, and for $17 it goddamn well better be. The cheese was soft an hot and the mustard-and-stout ale dipping sauce was excellent. "Don't double-dip!" she exclaimed. Hey. That mustard sauce ain't free. I'm gonna use it up.

My entrée was that Belgian Sausages & Stoemp, pork sausages poached in Leffe Blonde beer with a side of mashed potatoes and caramelized onion gravy. I like sausages and these were fine, as far as they went. The gravy was extremely good. I do wish that there was a bit more oomph though. Maybe I'm too picky but something was missing. Belgian Beer Café is a lively place and maybe I was hoping for something more boisterous. Instead, I got a meal that was subdued and humble, best eaten at Burp Castle where whispers are the preferred mode of conversation. Side note, if you've never been to Burp Castle, go to Burp Castle... and keep your voice down. Speeds beat me again when she ordered the Chicken Vol Au Vent, a puff pastry-topped chicken and veal meatball pot pie. It's small but hearty. The thick cream sauce and hearty vegetables would make this a perfect winter dish, and the crust and accompanying side of fries are great for absorbing the alcohol you are almost certain to have in your system. The fries themselves were sadly mediocre, but the pot pie itself was delicious. I would certainly get this the next time I find myself here.

For dessert, Warm Belgian Doughnut Nuggets. Warm, fresh baked sugar and cinnamon doughnut holes, served in a little paper basket to absorb the residual oil, and served with a custard dipping sauce. I don't really have a sweet tooth, but I liked this. Between the soft, doughy texture, the crunch of the sugar, and the mellowness of the custard, there was enough going on in this simple dish to keep each bite interesting. Fail to try it at your peril.

Belgian Beer Café definitely a corporate happy hour type joint. If this is your jam, then perfect, you have a new hangout that you will almost certainly love. If it's not, then there are plenty of other spots for a beer in the area. A few drinks, two appetizers, two entrees, and a dessert came to $100 before tax and tip.

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