Baltimore's best-kept secret restaurant? Mussel Bar and Grille by Robert Wiedmaier
There are some great restaurants in Baltimore's Harbor East neighborhood, but many are chain-owned. That means "cookie-cutter"! Robert Wiedmaier is an acclaimed Belgian chef who has opened several beloved eateries in the D.C. area. Now, Baltimore's feeling the love! Mussel Bar and Grille strikes that perfect Baltimore note of flavorful recipes in a relaxed setting. I was happy to be hosted to experience it!
A block away from the touristy cluster of Harbor East, a casual world of polished wood meets industrial grit. There are several distinct sections, including a see and be seen bar area, quiet dating nooks and a television to watch the game.
Belgium has been known for its unique, hand-crafted beers since the time of the Crusades. Local drafts can be fun to sample -- and they do carry interesting regional beers -- but really, why not sip on suds that have been beloved all over the world? If you're not sure about what style you prefer, Mussel Bar and Grille offers flights that you can pick yourself or ask for some knowledgeable advice. Wiedmaier is a Belgian Beer Knight -- a great honor in that country.
Mussel Bar and Grille is said to be modeled after Belgian dive bars that Robert Wiedmaier used to frequent . . . but it's quite civilized!
Having been all over Belgium on three occasions myself, I have a good idea on what they eat. Some areas have more French influences and others have that simpler, heartier fare favored by the rural Dutch. At this restaurant, there's a good deal of tasty American and global fusion into the traditional fare, without being gimmicky.
In the category of good-better-BEST come deviled eggs. The ones you (and I) make at home can be tasty and are fun additions to parties. Some restaurants have topped the things with a bit of red pepper or crumbled bacon. Fine and better. But those creations might not inspire you to try yet another kind of the picnic fare . . . but you'd really be losing out! Their Deviled Hen Eggs have thick, rough-cut hunks of shaved prosciutto, thin slices of pepperoncini, red onion, goat milk feta and chili flakes. There's just enough interesting -- unusual forms of - heat, along with meatiness and cheesiness that elevates the eggs to an addictive level!
A dish that's kind of a cross between American picnic baked beans and French cassoulet is the Crispy Berkshire Pork Belly with hot pepper jelly glaze, apple salad, mustard and maple baked beans. This dish has a lot more heat! But the richness of the pork belly and sweetness of the apple salad provides balance and contrast.
Mussels are huge in Belgium. They offer a handful of different styles, including classic and funky takes on the dish. If you're not from Baltimore, you may not realize that Kennett Square, PA is local to us and also, considered the Mushroom Capital of the World. These are great fungi with subtle, earthy flavors that complement -- not overwhelm -- the seafood. The dish also includes chunks of rich, smoked bacon, as well as a thinner cream-fresh chives and thyme sauce. The fragrance is enticing and you're sure to want some bread to soak up the sauce!
Steak Frites is a "thing" in that part of the world . . . even if that steak is a Berkshire Pork Chop! That is a specially raised, extra rich meat. Feel free -- and be encouraged -- to order it medium . . . it's delectable that way. Be extra decadent and substitute their truffle frites topped with Parmesan cheese for extra flavor with the crispy potatoes.
Here's another secret that you may not have ordinarily ordered, but you simply must: their incredible butter cake. It's like caramel and brown sugar and cake all married to each other.
Right this week, through July 21, 2016, the restaurant is celebrating Belgian National Day (their 185th), with all kinds of specials, complimentary foods and lots of treats.