After sleeping as late as we wanted, eating a leisurely breakfast at our hotel, and then waiting for Brad to do a bit of work, we headed to the Grand Place which is at the heart of Brussels and the biggest attraction in the city.
It’s a beautiful old square that is fenced by huge gothic buildings housing cute little restaurants and delicious chocolate shops. It was about a 20-25 minute walk from our hotel and by the time we got there it was time for a very late lunch.
We pulled out our Rick Steve’s guide and found L’Estaminet du Kelderke.
We actually stood in front of it for about five minutes trying to figure out which end of the square it was in relation to us, only to turn around and be standing at it’s doorstep.
Brad and I both ordered the Grimbergen — he the Brun (Brown) and I had the Blond.
It took us about five seconds to figure out what to order. Belgian food is a lot like French food, well most of it. Belgian is divided into Flemish (Dutch) sections and French sections so you can get Belgian French food or Belgian Flemish food depending on where you are. Brussels is a French city.
Brad immediately started eyeing our neighbors food as soon as he came in the door so it was no surprise he ordered it. I don’t remember the exact name and I can’t find it on their menu because it was a special, but it was basically a type of Belgian meat loaf with gravy. The main difference between it and your typical American meat loaf is that it had more breading. It was served with mashed potatoes that had peas and carrots mixed with it which Brad really liked.
I ordered the mussles.
Mussels are a big thing in Brussels, but unlike French mussels which are cooked in white wine, Belgian mussles (moules) are cooked in beer. In fact, a lot of their French-ish food is the French equivalent cooked in beer instead of wine.
This bowl was massive and I think it would have been a little more appropriate for two people. My waiter tsk tsk-ed me for not finishing it but I gave it my best shot.
The mussels’ broth was wonderful so I had to save some room for dipping my bread into the yummy liquid. The little shellfish were not so little. Mussels are huge when they’re in season in Belgiam. I was really impressed with their side.
I also really loved the fennel, green onion, and parsley in the dish.
I can’t recommend L’Estaminet du Kelderke enough. I was especially impressed with it because if its location. I always expect restaurants in high traffic tourist areas to be super touristy and cheesy. But Kelderke was anything but. It was super cozy and delicious.
After our delicious lunch, Brad and I got a sweet tooth. I’m sure the umpteen chocolate shops in the area didn’t help.
We first hit up Galler which is one of the only good chocolate shops in Brussels that doesn’t export so if you’re going to get it, you’ve got to get it here.
We chose several different kinds and took turns taking a bite and passing it to the other. My favorite was a salted caramel chocolate while Brad like one filled with curry (!). I was hesitant about this one and decided that it wasn’t horrible but I would never choose to eat it when there are so many other amazing flavors.
Next, Maison J. Dandoy drew us in. A friend told me that this is the oldest cookie shop in Brussels. There are two locations near the Grand Place — one right across from Galler and another larger (and newer I *think*) location on the opposite side of the square on a side street.
They carry the famous Belgian speculoos cookies in so many different shapes and sizes. St. Nicholas seemed to be the most popular shape. The particular cookie in the photo is at least two feet tall.
Besides speculoos cookies, they also carry breads..
…and a lot of other types of cookies.
I marveled at this very steep wrapping staircase, but soon learned that this is characteristic of almost every building in Brussels and nearby cities.
I should note that I also stopped by Godiva, but was very unimpressed. Besides the fact that I can get it in the States, so it’s not really that big of a deal to visit, it was impossible to tell what was what when choosing chocolates. Nothing was labeled and the saleswoman either didn’t know what they had or didn’t know the English word for it. Eventually she asked, “Do you have something in mind?” and it went like this..
Me: Do you have anything with mint?
Me: Do you have anything with salted caramel?
Me: Do you have anything with peanut or hazelnut butter?
So I just pointed at a few mystery chocolates and crossed my fingers none would be filled with orange creme. Yuck.
A little trip down restaurant row (a narrow street with only restaurants) and we found this cute little alley way. Yes, in Europe, alleys can be cute. In the U.S. they’re just sketchy.
Here we found Toone, which is half marionette theater, half super old hole-in-the-wall bar with scary marionettes hanging from the ceiling that reminded me of dolls hanging themselves.
Don’t let my description fool you. I love interesting places like this so I really loved this place. It was tucked away which made it seem like a “find”.
The biggest source of entertainment was the sweet gray kitty that lived at the bar. He went around to all the patrons and patiently waited for a scratch on the head.
So we obliged; even me. I’m super allergic to cats, but Brad said maybe I’m not allergic to Belgian cats so I gave him a few strokes.
While we were sitting there, a lone gentleman walked in to the bar, took his coat off, sat down, and set his coat beside him. Mr Gray Kitty quietly walked over to him and gingerly stepped onto his coat, turned around a few times to get comfortable and lied down in a little ball. Meanwhile Brad and I giggled watching the scene knowing that the man was completely oblivious to the cat taking a nap on his coat, merely inches from him.
When the man finally saw him, we shared a good laugh.
One of the best parts about being in Belgium in December (besides the incessant frigid rain…haha) is the Christmas festival.
All over central Brussels, little stands selling food and Christmas items were being put up on our second day there and Christmas decorations were everywhere. When night fell, everything was ready to go and the stands opened up to patrons. Brad grabbed som Vin Chaud (hot mulled wine) and I watched the gorgeous light show.
Here’s a glimpse of the spectacular and colorful show…
The structure to the left is a Christmas tree, which flashed colors and lights to the beat of Christmas music. It was magical.
There was also a manger scene with live animals. We were roped off so I couldn’t get close enough to get a shot of the sheep.
Brad and I weren’t very hungry once the dinner hour rolled around, but on our walk back to the hotel we stumbled upon a street food festival. Like many of these, patrons purchase tokens and then get a small portion per token.
There were heated tents for libations, which were a bit pricey, so Brad and I stuck to the food.
The festival was small, but lively!
While Brad waited in line for our food, I snapped some photos of the modern Christmas tree displays.
The first place we ate had smoked salmon with a creamy sauce and garnished with a crisp and mushrooms.
It was very fresh and delicious. I was actually pleasantly surprised that this restaurant chose to serve smoked salmon, which is quite pricey. In my experience, restaurants tend to choose the cheapest dishes to serve at festivals like this.
Hanging from the ceiling of the food tents were pieces of paper that I *think* had recipes. You know I can’t read French.
The second dish we tried was very delicious and incredibly creative.
It was a soup with shrimp, lemongrass, and a ravioli stuffed with foi gras.
We moseyed around a bit trying to find our third plate for the evening.
In all honesty, I thought this was dessert. In my book, pastry bag = dessert.
But actually these were the Belgian version of hush puppies. And they weren’t that great to be honest. They were kind of dry and not very flavorful.
Thank goodness we had some cookies to end the night on a sweet note.