Forays to Belgium for the country’s famous local beers are considerably closer for residents in and around the Kaiserslautern, Germany, area with the recent opening of De Belgian Bistro in this village near Ramstein Air Base.
The collage of brewery labels lining the top shelf behind the bar will lift the spirit of any Belgian beer connoisseur: Duvel, Barbãr Bok, Westmalle Trappist, Kasteel, St.-Feuillien and Mongozo, to name only a few.
Owner and head chef Guido Denis opened the quaint restaurant in Weilerbach in early December with an eye toward Americans who consider drinking Belgian beer a transcendent experience.
“I was looking already for a long time to open something of my own,” he said.
A native of the world’s beer capital, Denis heard how popular the Belgian bar was on Ramstein and figured, “I can do the same thing off the base — and I make it bigger,” he said. “I know the Americans like the beer.”
So far, Denis has amassed an intriguing inventory of more than 50 Belgian beers, from the more well-known brands such as Leffe, to obscure microbrews like the “Bink brown,” a dark ale produced at an old farmhouse in central Belgium.
The typical price for a .33-liter bottle is between 3 euros and 3.50 euros — or under $5. That seems reasonable, considering the miles Denis racks up on his aging car to keep Belgian suds on hand. Denis makes one or two road trips to Belgium weekly for supplies, sometimes enlisting the help of family and friends to pick up beer from smaller breweries that set quotas. One brewery, he said, limits customers to six bottles per year.
Denis said that patrons of his bistro can request a particular brand of Belgian beer and he’ll try to get it.
“In Belgium, there are over 1,300 different beers,” he said. “I try to find them, but it’s not always easy.”
Customers can even purchase bottles of beer from the bistro to take home, though Denis requests that larger orders — such as for a case — be placed in advance.
From his kitchen, Denis appears keenly interested in customer satisfaction. When not cooking, he walks throughout the small establishment from table to table discussing his creations and listening to feedback.
Somewhere between Belgian pub fare and dishes that embody Denis’ culinary flair, the food is generally comforting and hearty.
For example, on the menu there’s hamburger, and then there’s the Belgian hamburger — the latter being a hearty 250-gram slab of beef embellished with a fried egg, bacon and several homemade sauces, the ingredients of which, Denis says, are secret.
The Belgian burger, minus the disintegrating roll, received high marks from my dining companion during a meal there in late December. Denis said starting in January he would be serving an improved bun from another bakery.
During another visit, an Indonesian satay dish popular in the Netherlands received lukewarm reviews from my group; it didn’t help that the meat skewers were marinated in a brown gravy instead of the traditional peanut sauce, since Denis couldn’t get the latter during the holiday season.
While the bistro’s food is still a work in progress, the real draw is the plethora of Belgian beer. Indeed, what Denis calls his signature dish might be a good bet: a Belgian goulash, made, of course, with brown Leffe beer.
De Belgian Bistro
Location: Danzigerstrasse 10, Weilerbach 67685
Hours: Weekdays 5-11 p.m.; weekends, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Prices: Very reasonable: Belgian beers cost on average 3 euros or 3.50 euros for a .33-liter bottle; most meals cost less than 10 euros, with the exception of a few schnitzel and steak dishes.
English menu: Some English on the menu; staff can help translate menu items.
Clientele: Mostly Americans and Germans.
Information: Call (+49) (0)6374-9458512. On Facebook: facebook.com/pages/De-Belgian-Bistro/174480152676262.