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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Beers Aplenty

Fat Abbey’s Belgian fare

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Fat Abbey, which opened at the end of May, is another bar/restaurant belonging to the Diablos Rojos Restaurant Group. Like its counterparts, Trocadero and Cafe Hollander, it has a European theme, amplifying the Belgian end of Cafe Hollander’s Low Countries cuisine. It is called a biercafe, so naturally there is a huge beer list focusing on Belgian and Belgian-inspired products. These intense ales and lambics might not please all palates, but not to worry: Miller Lite is also on the list.

The restaurant’s first floor has an inviting bar and a few tables. An upper level is open on busier evenings. Outdoor tables line the street, with trees lending shade and adding an urbane feel. There’s an outdoor patio with less character but more tables.

The menu continues the European flavor with suitable salads, handmade pizzas and American fare like chicken wings and burgers. It is difficult to imagine drinking a Hoegaarden Wit without a bowl of steamed mussels on the side, but unfortunately mussels have been removed from the menu.

Several of the items incorporate the beers in the recipes, including the vinaigrette Ommegang ($12.95), which makes use of the beer in the dressing of this arugula salad. Fresh basil, bell pepper and slivers of red onion complete the salad, and three slices of grilled bread topped with truffled goat cheese make a superb accompaniment. Chimay, a Belgian beer, finds its way into Trappist chicken wings ($8.95). While there is nothing timid about Chimay, here it takes on subtleties with the assistance of a bit of gin ger, soy sauce and wasabi—an unconventional approach that works. A recent menu revision removed another version called “Wings of Death,” a title that apparently deterred customers. The habanero pepper sauce was spicy but manageable; it should be reinstated on the menu.

Asian ingredients also find their way into the menu with the raging bull skewers ($10.95). Three skewers of meat are marinated with chiles, lime, annatto and coconut milk, resulting in a flavorful but not overpowering taste. The meat may be well done, but it remains tender. Thin onion threads top the beef and below is a nice jicama slaw, which adds minced yellow and red bell pepper as well as minced napa cabbage.

Beyond mussels, another food associated with Belgium is frites. They are the same kind served at Cafe Hollander and have the perfect soft texture. At one meal a frites cone ($4.95) arrived cold, but it was instantly and cheerfully replaced. The frites are served with a good curried ketchup, but consider one of the other optional sauces.

Sriracha mayo is a bit spicier, and traditional mayonnaise comes in full Belgian style. Frites are also included with all of the sandwiches: burgers, chicken, turkey and one vegetarian. The black salt burger ($9.95) tops ground beef with Gruyere cheese and thin slices of sauted mushrooms. Lettuce and tomato are best removed, as they inter fere with the subtle flavors of the salt and hints of black pepper.

The menu finishes with seven kinds of pizza with pre-chosen toppings and a B.Y.O. ($8.95), a basic cheese and tomato sauce pizza with any other topping available for an extra charge. The other seven pizzas are straightforward options, with the exception of the drunken monk ($14.95). Here the pizza is topped with chick en seasoned with ancho chile and lime juice, cilantro, smoke onions, queso fresco and the house Diablos Rojos sauce. The sauce is creamy, with hints of curry and hot pepper. The crust is thin and much firmer than a Neapolitan one, and the diverse Mexican ingre dients merge well.

Fat Abbey adds another casual bar and eatery to the RiverWalk. The service is efficient and reliable; the kitchen playfully innovative at times. Ultimately what stands out the most is the beer list. The Belgian beers are abundant and the alcoholic contents are wisely stated on the menu—some over 10%! While the frites are of top quality, the return of mussels to the menu would complete the bier cafe experience.

FAT ABBEY BIERCAFE 134 E. Juneau Ave. (414) 755-0333 $$ Credit Cards: All major Smoking: Second level only Handicap Access: Yes

Fat Abbey | Photo by Tate Bunker

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