Dining Review: Point Brugge Cafe is cozy spot with a tasty menu

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Jesse Seager likes to refer to his Point Brugge Cafe as a neighborhood joint.

Alyssa Cwanger, Post-Gazette
Point Brugge Cafe owner Jesse Seager holds Gouden Carolus beer with Mussels in White Wine, Shallots in Garlic, and Belgian Frites.
Click photo for larger image.

Point Brugge Cafe

401 Hastings St.
Point Breeze

Hours: lunch and dinner, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, noon-9 p.m. Sundays.

Basics: appetizers, $4-$9.50; entrees, $13.50-$19; desserts, $6; wines by glass; $4.50-$7.

Summary: No smoking. Not wheelchair accessible. Parking on street. All major credit cards accepted. No reservations accepted. To avoid long waits for a table, arrive for dinner by 6:30 p.m. or go for lunch.

That was probably a more apt description of The Point, the establishment that preceded Point Brugge in the same location. I prefer to think of Seager's new restaurant as Pittsburgh's version of a European neighborhood bistro. It's a cozy and welcoming beacon in what is primarily a residential neighborhood. If you live in Point Breeze, you are bound to run into your neighbors dining there.

The menu, though not extensive, is comforting. The dress is casual and the beer selection is awesome. In fact, it was Seager's love of Belgian beer that was the impetus for this cafe. Seager and his wife, Amy, traveled to Belgium to quench their thirst for the country's prime export and in the process discovered the pleasures of dining in some of the small cafes that provide a warm welcome along with tasty meals and local brews. It was while enjoying these cafes that the idea of creating a similar environment in Pittsburgh was born. The Seagers' enthusiasm for their project rubbed off on Amy's parents, and thus the creation of Point Brugge became a four-way partnership between Jesse, Amy and her parents, Elaine Wolfe and Barry Silverman. They bought the dilapidated building at the corner of Hastings and Reynolds streets and gutted the interior. With newly exposed brick walls, light-colored wood paneling and floor-to-ceiling windows, they have created an open, bright room on two levels, which seats 40 guests.

Judging from the number of people who line up most evenings to sample the attractions of Point Brugge, we would have to say that the neighborhood Euro-cafe idea is just what the local residents have been waiting for. With the exception of two Belgian entrees, the menu cannot be pigeonholed in any particular genre of food.

Among the appetizers, which the restaurant refers to as "small plates," are the likes of Macaroni and Cheese ($6), Roasted Tomato and Spinach Dip ($7.50), Seared Halloumi Cheese ($8) and Hop Devil Battered Shrimp with Oriental Dipping Sauce ($8.50). There is a one-pound bowl of steamed mussels ($9.50) and a bowl of Brugge Frites ($4). The last two are staples for Brussels diners. Belgian french fries are universally acknowledged as the world's best. The Belgian recipe requires frying the potatoes twice in oil that for the first time is hot and for the second time is even hotter, giving the already cooked potato its crunchy exterior. Belgians eat their fries with mayonnaise, so Point Brugge serves basil mayonnaise with their frites. For a more American palate, ketchup is available.

Mussels are also featured on the entree menu ($15). The entree portion is 1 1/2 pounds of mussels served with a Belgian fries. One can choose to have the mussels with the classic Belgian sauce made from white wine, shallots and light cream or opt for a more funky version with a sauce of Thai red curry paste, coconut cream and lime juice. I've tried both and frankly endorse them equally.

The other typically Belgian entree is Carbonnade Flamande ($17), the Belgian version of pot roast. Point Brugge has modified the classic recipe by adding apples, apricots and rosemary to the dark Belgian ale braising liquid. They serve the beef with a side of frites. The Portabella Pasta ($12) is a generous portion of linguine tossed with mushrooms, caramelized vegetables, fresh herbs and roasted garlic. This combination results in a deliciously aromatic sauce and a great vegetarian entree. Mustard Crusted Salmon ($16) comes over a bed of grilled polenta and sauteed greens and is topped with a light Dijon mustard cream sauce. Our party of four all gave this entree high marks.

Every Euro-cafe worth its salt has Steak Frites ($19) on the menu. The Point Brugge version is a small New York Strip topped with puddle of herby butter and, for a supplement of $2, a chunk of Maytag bleu cheese. Sandwiches ($7.50) are available at dinner. Ham, chicken or sausage come encased in Mediterra baguettes or rye bread and are served with slaw or a mixed greens salad ($7.50). There is a daily soup special. The Beer Cheese Soup ($3.50) combines cheddar with Maytag bleu to make an unusual and tasty appetizer.

At lunch time, Point Brugge offers the same small plates and sandwiches found on the dinner menu at slightly reduced prices. Chicken skewers ($6.50) is a generous portion of flame-grilled breast tenderloins bathed in peanut sauce and served over the excellent house slaw. Seared Mango and Tofu ($7) is a delicious vegetarian small plate of fruit and protein in a ginger-sesame sauce served over sauteed spinach. I could easily become addicted to this satisfying dish.

The Cafe Chicken Sandwich ($6.50) contains a grilled chicken breast with mozzarella, roasted red peppers and romaine on a toasted baguette. Roasted Vegetable Salad ($7.50) is another great choice. The roasted sweet peppers and asparagus are served over mixed baby greens and topped with goat cheese. For a nominal additional charge, this can be combined with grilled chicken, seared salmon or a grilled portabella mushroom.

Young Chef Alex Kastronis did his apprenticeship at Tony Pais' Cafe Zinho. He is doing a fine job of overseeing his own kitchen. But perhaps the greatest coup on the part of Point Brugge owners was to bring Susie Treon on board to create her magical desserts for their patrons. Treon recently retired from The Frick Cafe, where for the past 10 years she was the executive chef and developed a loyal following. Her desserts, for her fans, are what Belgian beers are for Jesse Seager, which is to say, worthy of building a neighborhood cafe. The dessert menu changes regularly. Recently you could choose between Belgian Chocolate Praline Cake with rum, Fresh Fruit Tart or Meringue with House-made Lemon Ice Cream. All are $6.

The cafe offers 12 wines by the glass for $4.50 to $7 and a selection of bottles priced from $20 to $30. But beer is still at the core of this establishment. The extensive list of more than 60 labels includes American, British, Dutch and Czech as well as Belgian brews. From Leffe Blonde Ale ($5) to Flemish Brown Rare VOS ($5), there is a beer for every taste here ... including even raspberry-flavored Lambic. The selection of beers on tap is constantly changing.

Point Brugge Cafe has definitely realized all of the owners' desires to duplicate the European neighborhood cafe concept in Pittsburgh. Lucky us.

Elizabeth Downer can be reached at edowner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1454.


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