Belgians invade Old Town

  • 2006-04-12
  • By Paul Morton
RIGA - One night, when I was in Athens a few years ago, I overheard a French woman very loudly going on in English to her companion (who I'm pretty sure was Italian) about how much she hated "the Americans." She didn't give any concrete reasons for her dislike, and I imagine if I introduced myself and attempted to ask where the source for her hate lay, I wouldn't get a real response. But there was one country she apparently had a lot of affection for: Belgium. "It's like our little brother."

The Belgian Beer Cafe in Riga's Old Town, part of a chain headquartered in Brussels, has a tasteful approach to giving us Belgium. No, you don't feel like you're in Belgium here. But with a series of 1930's vintage photographs of Belgian beach resorts, vintage tin lunch boxes and vintage tin beer cans, the restaurant pays a nice tribute to the little country, which, like Quebec, is kind of a less rude version of France. The tables are mahogany and there are old-time mirrors throughout the restaurant. Two flat screen televisions remind you that you're in an upscale bar for tourists and businessmen.
Well, there were 19 varieties of beer on the menu. It was good beer, apparently, from Belgium, like Stella Artois. But it was 4 p.m. and I didn't feel it was appropriate to get drunk quite yet. I had a Coke. For 4.99 lats (7.14 euros) I could have enjoyed a special businessman's lunch of grilled chicken and dessert and tea and coffee. But I thought it would be better to try at least something different. When this place opened a couple of months ago, it bragged that there was finally a place in Riga where you could get good mussels.

And so I had what the menu awkwardly described as a traditional Belgian soup with salmon and mussels on a Stella Artois beer base for 4.80. What I got was a yellowish concoction with the shells poking out from the surface of the soup and a few silver-dollar shaped salmon circles. It looked like the sort of thing I threw together in my mom's kitchen when I was eight-years-old. But I liked it. It had a sour taste that was stuck in my mouth for a few hours afterwards.
With the caveat that I arrived at the restaurant during the late-afternoon downtime, I wasn't completely happy with the service. It took 10 minutes to get a menu, when there was only one other party in the restaurant. And almost as soon as I received my menu a waitress came by to take my order. I hardly had a chance to read the thing, or take notes of what was on it for this article. I did discover that besides beer and mussels, the Belgian Beer Cafe may also be the best place in Riga to get toast. There are six varieties here. I'm sure you'll find something you want.

Belgian Beer Cafe
Marstalu 8, Riga
Tel: +371 772 6585