Go Belgian-style gastropubbing at Brugge Brasserie
What does real food taste like? What does it taste like when a restaurant spares no expense on ingredients, when it eschews all things processed or pre-made? When it has shellfish delivered daily and makes stock from actual bones? When it batters fish and braises beef in its own house-brewed wheat beers and ale? When it hand cuts fries and prepares 10 fresh, distinct dipping sauces every day? Well, it tastes like Brugge Brasserie, the hottest new concept in pub dining to hit Indy since, well, a long time.
A cone of fries ($3.95)
The first time I dined here, one crisp late-spring evening at an outdoor picnic table with curious holes drilled in the top, the food was superb, exotic even, given Indy’s woeful dearth of European cuisines not bordering the Mediterranean. But service was a definite Achilles’ heel, despite a modest population of savvy gastropubbers. Our waitress kindly divided an endive salad ($6.95) into two curvaceous off-white bowls emblazoned with the pub’s artful logo. But then she disappeared without explanation for upwards of 20 minutes. We could see her gabbing with bartenders and daydreaming by the cash register while we drank down our Belgian beers to the last lick of foam, our stomachs growling. Food eventually trickled out, a rich crêpe stuffed with duck and sweet onions ($9.95), a cone of fries ($3.95) balanced — eureka! — in one of those holes and a homemade sausage sandwich or “mitraillette” ($8.95) so succulent we would have waited another day for it to show up. Where other restaurants would stop with mustard, the kitchen at Brugge added roasted peppers, onions caramelized in ale, a tapenade with briny niçoise olives and a slather of aioli packing plenty of raw garlic. Alongside the slightly spicy sausage, this seeming cacophony of condiments played more of a symphony, a contrapuntal but harmonic mix of flavors César Franck, Belgium’s most famous composer, would surely approve of. As pub food goes, this was a revelation. On a second visit, at the sweltering end of summer, we breezed right to the same al fresco seats, though legions of local diners had caught on to the heady charms of brasserie cuisine. Food came swiftly, and our waiter was informed and attentive. He didn’t stop at “Everything OK?” but actually wanted to know what we thought of each dish or the most recent batch of “wit” beer, the Belgian version of white or wheat beer. This crisp, slightly opaque brew with a creamy whiff of baking bread was the perfect quaff to offset the richness of the food. The same endive salad seemed a bit less heavy with endive and contained perhaps slightly less pristine micro-greens. But the Roquefort, the piquant but bright dressing with cherries and raspberry lambic, and sweet, spicy walnuts, dazzled us once again. All fears that ingredients might have been compromised over time to cut costs were deliciously allayed. This time, we discovered the apotheosis of the sandwich: a Euro-style Dagwood piled high with luscious duck confit, more dried cherries and lambic, fried leeks and spicy mustard ($9.95). That symphony had become a raucous cabaret operetta with the chorus girls kicking up every heel. Despite its position on the rising wave of a trend, Brugge schools its customers on avant-garde bar food virtually without pretense or even one stern glance down its nose. Sure, they presume a schoolboy’s knowledge of French when reading the menu, but this is Broad Ripple, after all, not the actual Brugge in West Flanders with its canal and well-preserved Medieval architecture. When the gaggle of Broad Ripple High grads who opened Brugge were hanging out on their canal, it was more about skateboarding and graffiti than cultural preservation in a provincial capital. Just one peek inside, and you know you won’t be held to too much ceremony. Banquettes and chairs scattered around copper-topped tables make it clear that customers get pretty chummy here. But deep purple walls and art glass lampshades approximating flowers show how much attention and cost went into making this place as chic as it is hip. At lunch on yet another visit, Chef Neal Brown, recently of H20 Sushi, betrayed his surfer boy good looks and generous locks with the rather Boy Scout-like gesture of seating two lunching ladies himself. This time, our courtship with Brugge was consummated with its signature (and Belgium’s national) dish: moules frites ($13.95). Two full pounds of steamy Prince Edward Island mussels came in their own enameled stock pot, its lid doubling as a trash bin for shells. A baton of French bread could hardly sop up a miniature sea of butter, chardonnay and shallots, perfumed with herbes de Provence. Carbonnade flamande ($10.95) was a beef-lover’s dream with hunks of super tender beef cooked in dubbel ale with just a few sweet laces of onion. Such simple satisfaction required no musical metaphors, just the certainty that our tongues would long hum with the flavors of a gastro-perfect pub lunch. Brugge Brasserie 1011 E. Westfield Blvd. 255-0978 hours Monday–Thursday: 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Friday–Saturday: 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Food : 4.5 Stars Atmosphere : 4 Stars Service : 3.5 Stars