Mussels, or moules, are the national dish of Belgium. They are traditionally served in a steamer pot with a side of Belgian frites and mayonnaise. You can find them on the menu at nearly every tourist restaurant in Brussels. In fact, as you walk down the alleyways near the Grand Place, you will see them featured on sandwich boards outside every café. Just in case you miss the signs, barkers stand outside each restaurant, beckoning you to take a seat.
These white-shirted, black-aproned hosts greet everyone who passes, stepping out onto the cobbled brick paths to block their way. They pull out a chair and persuasively usher you toward a white linen table as they point out “their” special: Moules & Frites 12.95 Euro.
If you manage to get past one awning, the next French-speaking maître ‘d will do the same. And so on, and so on, down the street.
Travel writers aren’t supposed to use the word charming, but it’s hard not to in this cozy, cobbled corner of Brussels. There’s something quintessentially romantic about it all. The narrow lanes, the French waiters, the romantic lighting and café atmosphere. Plus, the mussels. I do love mussels.
I have dined in a few of these establishments and have not been that impressed with the food. These aren’t the type of places that depend on repeat business and one pot of moules is pretty much like the next. But there is one exception on the Rue de Bouchers. It is Chez Leon. They pull in their business by the quality of their food, not their high-pressure sales force.
Chez Leon serves half a ton of mussels each day from just ONE restaurant. You can order them steamed, but I preferred mine open and had trouble choosing between Moules au gratin or Moules a’ la escargots. Luckily, there was something even better: Moules escargot gratinee. Or Mussels with snail butter and cheese. DELICIOUS!
Naturally, I washed it down with a glass of Belgium’s famous cherry beer: Kriek. And then capped it off with another. 🙂 Leon’s brews its own special beer that they pair with their mussels, but when in Belgium, I always drink Kriek.
It was my favorite meal in Brussels (aside from all the Belgian waffles I ate in the Grand Place).
So, when in Brussels, definitely wander up and down the romantic cobbled-brick Rue de Bouchers. Take a seat at one of the enticing little café restaurants if you like. But if you want good mussels, stop at Chez Leon. The rest are just shells in a bucket.
Which is more likely to lure you in? The food, or the atmosphere?