The Mussels from Brussels
I am a proud Nova Scotian, but I have an unabashed love for Europe. Luckily for me, I can fill the gaps between my European adventures with a slice of Europe at Brussels on Granville Street in downtown Halifax.
I spent some time with chef Kristy Burgess and manager Matt Bent before my meal. We had a lovely time discussing the café-brasserie culture of northern Europe and how it influenced the menu and atmosphere at Brussels**.
Described as “accessible European-style cuisine with local fare,” Brussels offers a combination of traditional Belgian dishes and widely-known European staples. I’ll go one step further and say Brussels is the closest thing to Europe in Halifax without a trip to YHZ.
A restaurant in three parts, patio – brasserie – dining room, you walk through the door and are transported far, far away:
Like cafés and brasseries you would see on a classic European tour, the atmosphere is warm and casual. The bar at the back proudly displays the vast selection of beer on tap, plus the official glassware required for each brew to maximize the experience. Belgium is renowned for its brewing tradition and Brussels rises to the challenge. This is the beer menu:
Brussels takes beer seriously. 180 beers seriously. The servers ask detailed questions about what you like and what you plan to eat. Using that information, they offer beer pairing suggestions with confidence and detail that is on par with any sommelier in the city.
To start off my meal, chef Kristy suggested a special treat from the daily “Tapas & Taps” happy hour menu. She had me at “bacon wrapped scallops,” but these had a twist – chunks of grilled pineapple. My server Tyler, after a lengthy consultation, suggested I try them with the Propeller Honey Wheat and he was 100% right. These “Scalloped Skewers” convinced me that I need more grilled pineapple in my life:
When I was talking to chef Kristy and Matt about the menu, we covered a lot of ground. Until I had been to Brussels, I didn’t know mussels – or moules en français – were such a fixture of Belgian cuisine. As you might expect, they are prominently featured on the menu.
With ten menu selections and a daily “Chef’s Feature,” Nova Scotia’s Indian Point Mussels are presented in such unique ways that you’ll find yourself wondering if you will ever want “steamed with melted butter on the side” ever again. You probably won’t. One of the delights in having mussels at Brussels is that they arrive at your table in the most perfect mussel vessel I’ve ever seen.
Tyler suggested I reserve the potato and rosemary bread for dipping in the sauce. He was right to do so. The sauce is beyond delicious, starting sweet with the apples and carrots, with the mild heat from the curry kicking in a split second later. Matt tells me I’m not alone in this conclusion, having seen people request spoons for scooping up the remaining sauce after the mussels are gone. Terrific suggestion, Matt!
At Brussels, the standard serving of 1½ pounds of mussels are cooked right in the sauce. The flavour permeates the mussels without overwhelming them. I was so delighted by the mussels that I went back a couple of days later with friends so we could sample even more options.
For “Round Two,” we tried the Navigateur again, as wells as the Po Pèi (in a spinach and bacon cream sauce) and the Congo (ginger, lemongrass and chilis in a coconut cream sauce). To complement the mussels, we enjoyed traditional Belgian frites with a delicious mayonnaise on the side. We’re also planning a return visit on a Monday, when mussels are 2-for-1.
The menu goes well beyond moules et frites, including local adaptions of European standards, including another favourite of mine, steak frites. As you might expect in a restaurant with 180 beers, each menu item suggests a beer pairing, in addition to the menu items that are actually made with the beer.
After my hearty meal, I just wanted a little bite of something sweet, so I wandered over to the Brussels’ chocolate station. I engaged Matt and Tyler in another exhaustive consultation about the wide range of superior chocolates, finally deciding on a magnificent “Caprice” by Neuhaus (sold exclusively at Brussels), as well as a smooth coconut truffle from Godiva:
In my short time at Brussels, I reawakened some nostalgia for my European travels, tasted the best mussels I’ve ever had in Nova Scotia, learned a heck of a lot about beer, and discovered “chocolate stations” exist.
Combined with the laid-back atmosphere and attentive service, I can see Brussels easily working its way on to my regular rotation of after-work stops. I also signed up for the preferred guest program to ensure I receive regular update, news about seasonal menus, special events like the current lobster festival, and, hopefully, to find out when a new selection of chocolate comes in.
**For what it’s worth, there is a real slice of Brussels in Brussels. Manneken Pis, the (real) Brussels equivalent of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid, has been reproduced here and given the full Halifax treatment. Like his brother in Belgium, Halifax’s Manneken Pis is dressed for special occasions, meriting regular visits to check out his latest incarnation.