Monday, November 24, 2008

Mussels, but no Brussels

The Beanpole has had several opportunities to travel internationally for business and his most recent trip overseas found him in Brussels, Belgium. He attended several dinners and raved about the cuisine but has always had a special place in his heart for mussels. Finally, Saturday night we hopped on the bus and headed up to Hopleaf, a Belgian bar in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago, for an evening of mussels and frites for two, and of course Belgian beer! (photo courtesy of

The kitchen offers two styles of mussels. The first is prepared with a Belgian white ale with shallots, celery, thyme and bay leaf. We opted for the second, more traditional white wine preparation with garlic, fennel, and rapini. Both are served with a paper cone of frites and a bit of garlic aoili. The Beanpole spooned a heaping pile of shells onto each of our plates and we dove in. Each and every bite was delicious. At one point I remember eating as quickly as possible to keep up with The Beanpole and make sure he didn't devour the entire pot and we sat back in our seats with beer in hand and satiated grins on our faces.

The mussels were fantastic, but the real star at Hopleaf is the beer selection. The downstairs bar offers several Belgian and local microbrews on tap along with a sixteen-page menu of bottled beers and the upstairs cash-only bar offers a smaller but still impressive selection. Each brew is carefully poured into the appropriate glass to enhance the experience. The most distinct (and a personal favorite) is Kwak, an amber-colored malty brew with just a hint of fruit, which is served in a round-bottomed glass complete with wooden stand. I suggest ordering this treat early in the evening as returning the glass to the stand after a couple rounds can be a little difficult! (photo courtesy of

Hopleaf is almost always on my list of recommendations for visitors to Chicago, so if you're in the area please check it out!

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