Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Bushwick for burgers and more.
Remember King Noodle, that insane sensory-overload spot that served decent stoner food near the Morgan L? Benelux, a mostly-Belgian bistro that opened last week on Bogart Street, is the opposite of that. In fact, this might be the most normal, gimmick-free restaurant to open in these parts since Roberta's blew up the spot ten years ago.
Not that Benelux is boring. The menu is appealing, filled with unfussy versions of bistro classics. The music is contemporary indie stuff with a few bangers thrown in to keep things lively. There are more than a dozen beers on tap, an apparently interesting wine list, and classic cocktails ready to be mixed. The staff is friendly, professional, and Brooklyn-hip. It's just (pleasantly) surprising not to be bombarded with a concept when you walk into a brand new restaurant these days.
The space is divided into two sections. Up front is the bar, with both tall and regular tables for drinking and dining. The music is louder up here, the scene more boisterous, though on a cold night the wall of wood-pane windows does little to keep the winter at bay. If you want a slightly more subdued (and definitely much warmer) eating experience, head to the back room where seven or eight standard-issue tables await.
Like its setting, there's nothing terribly flashy about the Benelux menu, but almost everything I ate here over two dinners last weekend satisfied in exactly the way I wanted it to. Steak Frites, for example, is a dish I've been craving for weeks, so when I saw it here for a reasonable-sounding $24, I pounced. The meat, two tender slabs of dry aged top sirloin, complete with thick crowns of fat, was cooked perfectly medium rare as requested, the disc of melting beurre au poivre adding a hit of decadence, and the pile of fries salty and crisp. Certainly not the most luxurious version of this dish, but it hit the spot.
The most delicious item here is probably the Mitrailette sandwich. This "Belgian classic" is crafted from roasted ham, crunchy slaw, some excellent pickles, and french fries, all piled on a great Tom Cat baguette, a bowl of thick, spicy mornay sauce on the side. There are a few vegetarian dishes available, including a hearty Waterzooi, the earthy braised lentil stew topped with a tangle of crisp root vegetables and given depth by the addition of smoked butter.
The Benelux Burger, a patty stuffed juicy-lucy-style with brie, was the only disappointment, and that was entirely because of the brioche bun, which is always a bad, overly bready move. The other burger, called the Drive-In, comes on a potato roll, and seems like a better choice. Both arrive with a pile of terrific housemade salt and vinegar chips. Definitely save room for dessert though: the Stroopwafel, made on premises, is a gooey, chewy delight, especially when upgraded to an ice cream sandwich, filled with your choice of several il laboratorio gelato flavors (get the Salted Caramel).
Benelux is a welcome change of scene from the usual new Bushwick party spots, and the food is really good. Definitely put it on your list of solid options around here.
Benelux is located at 25 Bogart Street, at the corner of Varet Street, and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. (718-366-3262; beneluxbk.com)