Belgian Bistro 

Suburban gem Brux’l Café gets a new lease in the city.

click to enlarge The Mussels from Brussels: Chef Xavier Meers shows off one of the seven mussel dishes offered at Brux’l Café, the new Belgian restaurant in the Fan from the owners of Belle Vie.

Scott Elmquist

The Mussels from Brussels: Chef Xavier Meers shows off one of the seven mussel dishes offered at Brux’l Café, the new Belgian restaurant in the Fan from the owners of Belle Vie.

If ever a Richmond restaurant location seemed cursed, it was the corner of Main Street and Allen Avenue in the Fan. A succession of restaurants — Dogwood Grille & Spirits, Cirrus, Plaza Mexico, Mainstream and Peacock's Pantry — said hello and goodbye. It was time for eye of newt.

So what does Brux'l Café, the latest warrior at the jinxed corner, have that the others didn't? A solid following. The owners of Belle Vie, a suburban Belgian restaurant with a proven track record of luring notoriously snobby city dwellers across county lines, jumped at the opportunity to open an outpost in the city proper, closing Belle Vie once the new eatery was up and running.

More of a casual bistro than Belle Vie, Brux'l Café's emphasis is on food, not décor, which amounts to beer signs and low-budget art. Beer bottles and glasses — what my grandmother would have called dust catchers — fill the high, deep windows. But the beery paraphernalia makes sense once you see the selection of Belgian beers ($5-$19), which includes a market-priced lambic du jour, a 2.5-percent fruit beer, a rotating array of Belgian beers on tap and five Trappist monastery-brewed ales ($9-$11).

Grape fanciers can choose from a European wine list ($7-$10 glass, $32-$40 bottle). While the brief martini menu seems dated in an era of craft cocktails, perhaps there are still people to be wooed by a Belgian chocolate martini for dessert.

As you might expect from his name, chef Xavier Meers knows his way around Belgian cuisine. Mussels with fries ($18) are offered seven ways, ranging from vegetable broth to blue cheese sauce. Cue more bread to sop up the Provençal, a classic mélange of white wine, tomato, herbs, garlic and cream. The further into the pot I go on curry cream mussels, the more invigorating the savory and sweet flavors become. Fries arrive in old-school, red-and-white cardboard boats, flaccid on one occasion, but expertly crisped on my other two visits.

Launch your meal with traditional Belgian melted cheese croquettes ($6/$12), oozing with flavor and textural contrast. Salads are offered in two sizes, but skip the salade verte ($4/$8) for the salade de chèvre ($6-$12), an edible garden sweetly crowned with honey and thyme, baked goat cheese, walnuts and shallots. Pair the salad with a lush appetizer of shrimp scampi sautéed in creamy garlic sauce ($10) for a satisfying and light September supper.

Bring your appetite for the mitraillettes, translated as submachine guns, but here meaning baguettes stuffed with meat or vegetables, cheese and fries. Yes, fries in the sandwich. Don't knock it till you've met the killer rib-eye version ($13), replete with tender steak, tomato, swiss cheese, shallots, fries and a mijolle sauce of Dijon mustard, white wine and mayo, a man handler of a sandwich if ever there was one.

Living so close to the Chesapeake Bay, crab cakes can be polarizing with everyone having a different notion of the gold standard. Here, the crab burger ($12) roosts atop a pretzel bun and features claw meat fried crispy on all sides. As long as you aren't a fan of back fin or a golden brown sauté in butter, you'll be quite happy. Truffles are becoming as ubiquitous as tattoos in this town, but you won't care once you smear truffle mayo on the truffle burger ($13) of ground filet mignon with truffle mushroom mix. If your arteries can handle it, add foie gras ($12) so your dining companions can watch your eyes roll back in your head.

A yellow light for traditionalists: The entree list is briefer than a college freshman's attention span, counting only three options: rib-eye, roasted salmon or grilled chicken in your choice of three sauces. Too bad the chicken ($19) is so bland that not even a generous bath of béarnaise sauce can entice any of us to finish it.

Brux'l Café has all the trappings of a bistro. It's casual and bright, and the din of diners drowns out any music. Soapbox time: When will restaurants accept that a television screen adds nothing positive to a room? Service is friendly and spirited, but waits are the norm between stops at the table.

More promising than proven at this point, Brux'l Café wants you to like it. As a celebration of Belgium with a pot of mussels or a mitraillette on the table, it's likely you will. S

Brux'l Café
Tuesday-Thursday 4-10 p.m., Friday 4-11 p.m., Saturday 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
1731 W. Main St.
355-3683
bruxlcafe.com

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