Background: My husband works for a company headquartered in Belgium and therefore, has several colleagues that are Belgian, or other European that had been living in Belgium previously and are now living in Lancaster. My husband has travelled to Belgium 8-10 times in the past 3 yrs. he has been working for this company.
When I saw the review in Central PA mag. of Cafe Bruges - a Belgian style pub smack dab in Central PA, I immediately checked out the resto website and forwarded it to my husband with a note that said, "hey, check this out! maybe we should get some of the Belgians together and trek over to Carlisle for dinner sometime." Well, his colleagues agreed - ALL of them, and before I knew it we had a group of 14, and since everyone was particularly excited about the beer list, no one wanted to drive. Thus a party van of 12 Europeans and 2 Americans headed to Carlisle last night (with appropriately Belgium-like weather) to see if this place was really any good. I was nervous. I mean, this was my idea, and what if they all sat down and began to eat only to realize that the food was nothing like what people actually eat in Belgium! Even my husband was a little worried, and would jokingly remind everyone that at least we know the beer (almost all Belgian imports - currently a list of 70, but growing) would be good! Adding to our worries was the fact that this place doesn't take reservations, even for large groups, who knew how long it would take for us to get seated!
And so, we arrived - later than planned, thanks to the weather and a brief mix-up regarding how many people could fit in the van - and sidled up to the bar. Everyone happily ordered beverages they had not had since arriving in the states. They poured over the menu as we waited for tables to be pushed together, the owner/manager seemed excited and nervous as well.
The food came, and with a sigh of relief, I noticed that the smiles on everyone's faces remained. The frites were good, very good. Most of our party, I was surprised, ordered the moules frites - they have several different preparations, and everyone seemed very happy. The appetizer of cheese croquettes was the most popular item of the night - everyone seemed very happy to see this ubiquitous Belgian dish on the menu and no one appeared disappointed. For my first course, I had the leek tart, which I thought was delicious, but just as nice was the tossed greed salad that came with it - the light lemony vinaigrette was wonderful. My husband had a salad Liege, which is boiled potatoes, green beans and bacon, also tossed in the lemon vinaigrette. Another diner sitting close to me had a the frisee salad, and was also very pleased. For an entree, I wanted something I had never had before, so I ordered the waterzooi of fish, which is like a seafood chowder. One other diner had the same, and we both agreed it was bland, and could have used better seasoning, but this was the only complaint of the evening, and I have to say in defense of the dish, that all of the various seafoods (mussels, scallops, shrimp, whitefish) all were cooked perfectly - nothing was chewy or dry as can sometimes happen in a seafood stew. My husband had the stoemp (a purree of root vegetables) with sausages, and loved it. Everyone else at my end our our long table had the moule frites, and like I said, they all enjoyed immensely, and the frites were considered especially good - I also noticed that they had all licked their containers of garlic mayonnaise clean with those frites. If that's not your thing, they had several options of dipping sauces with the frites.
Overall, a great success. They can't wait to go back again. I was very impressed with the food, the drink and the service. It was a casual, relaxed atmosphere with really good food. I didn't mind driving an hour to get there, and it almost made me wish I lived closer to Carlisle. I hope people check it out, and I hope they have as good an experience as we did.
16 N Pitt St, Carlisle, PA 17013