Brussels and mussels make a fine combination on Forest Ave, our “little Europe” restaurant row

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

Forest Avenue is like our own little taste of Europe: we have French, Italian and more, and this week’s food review focuses on our very own Belgium restaurant, the wonderful Brussels Bistro.

When I first arrived here in 2014 it was a World Cup year and as an avid football fan,  (I know you guys call it soccer but I just can’t get on board with that, I’m afraid) one of my first experiences of singing out in Laguna Beach was in Brussels Bistro watching England vs Holland. 

England lost but less about that… Instantly I loved Brussels Bistro, I loved the below ground cool basement style vibe, the wide variety of beers, the beautiful accents that resonate from the staff, but my absolute favorite thing was the fries. So when Brussels came up on my list as a restaurant that Stu News had not featured for a while, I jumped at the chance to go.

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My absolute favorite thing is the fries

Thomas Crijns opened Brussels Bistro in 2004 and it has been firmly established as one of the most celebrated restaurants in Laguna Beach, renowned for its authentic Belgium cuisine and of course its huge selection of Belgium Beers. It most recently won Open Tables February Diners Choice award, this alongside many other accolades since it opened. 

Seven months ago Thomas’ best friend of 40 years, Nicolas Servais, moved his family over from Belgium to partner with Thomas, a partnership that has only enhanced this already popular and successful bistro.

Brussels offers something for everyone: its weekly specials include Sunday steak and fries for $20 per person; Monday 50 percent off all beers when selecting an entrée; Tuesday “all you can eat mussels and fries” with a glass of beer or wine for $29 per person and Wednesday, any Belgium beer with an entrée for $25.  

My food journey at Brussels Bistro

As well as these themed nights, Brussels also offers a 4-6 p.m. happy hour and on Friday and Saturday nights, the bistro turns itself into one of the best dance music venues in Laguna Beach, playing dance music both European and American. 

I chose to do my report on Brussels on a Tuesday night. All you can eat mussels and fries? Er, I’m in!

Brussels prides itself on its mussels, which are flown in daily from Washington State and collected every morning from the airport. It’s estimated that they bring in 350 - 400 lbs every week.  

The Basic Broth starts with a base of celery onion and butter, which they call “Nature,” then additions are added, depending on what is ordered. Our server Adela was super knowledgeable and guided us through our mussel journey.

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Mussels Provencale

We started light with a small pot of Provençale, which is Nature, with tomatoes, basil and pastis. This was delicious, not too heavy but full of flavor and every mussel was equally as delicious as the next.  

Of course alongside the mussel dishes we had fries. Brussels fries really are the best, double fried in beef oil so they are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. We were also given a selection of their special sauces to dip in which were all spectacular. 

The next pot of mussels were the marinara, probably the most common of the broths available, this is made of the Nature, with added white wine and garlic and was just delicious, especially mopped up with the fries or the bread that was presented to us. 

It was then time to move on to the main course style mussels, which are denser as they incorporate cream into the broth. We started with the Hoegaarden beer mussels, again made of the Nature base, with added cream and beer. These were gorgeous, the beer and cream together worked and now there was the dense creamy base, the broth stuck to the fries: perfect.

Being a huge curry fan, I suspected the curry mussels would be my favorite. I was not wrong… Nature, cream and curry powder made this wonderful broth that I dipped way to many fries into and devoured my own body weight in mussels.

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Mussels and tequila taste amazing

Just when I thought I had reached my mussel limit. Adela presented us with the special that evening Tequila, jalapeno and cream and wow – these were really good.  I’ve told people about them since and have seen a few screwed up faces at the thought of tequila and cream, but trust me it really works.

My overall experience of Brussels was really very good. Everything about the Bistro from its décor to its website design to its menu is cool European chic. I love that fact that in the heart of California I can escape into this little basement and feel I’m in Europe again, which as much as I love Laguna, it’s nice to do at times. It was great to see that Brussels is so forward thinking in its weekly deals, and I am not surprised that it has won as many awards as it has. Well done Thomas, Nicholas and team on an outstanding Bistro. 

Brussels Bistro is located at 222 Forest Avenue and opens at 4 p.m. every day.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Lynette Brasfield is our Features Editor.

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