Café La Brocante
Every day at 6.00, without fail, the stall holders are there, setting up their wares, prepping for another day of haggling and selling. I spot a shabby wooden coffee table and pay €5 for it (and all its potential). Meanwhile, my friends are happily turning the handle on their own great find: an old-fashioned coffee grinder. Finally, we duck inside a café for a drink and a bite to eat.
La Brocante, located right on the corner of the square, is an institution that has been in the same family for more than 40 years. Its opening hours are set to match the market’s, and on this particular Sunday afternoon, we consider ourselves lucky to find a table for three.
Decor, service, atmosphere and menu all reflect the spirit of this charming pocket of Brussels. The space is snug and cosy, full of wood and old knick-knacks from the market, a bit messy even. But it has the feel of an authentic brown pub – of the very old Brussels variety.
Our server is fun and laid-back and gives more than worthy beer advice in a combination of English and French. Struck by indecision from the overwhelming number of lambics and gueuzes on the menu, I follow his recommendation for Gueuze Tilquin. Tilquin is the first new lambic blend to emerge on the scene in the last 15 years, and I try their Oude Gueuze. It tastes as good as it smells: dry, tart and musty, with a touch of damp hay and orange peel. My friends show their support for two local breweries with their orders of Taras Boulba, a hoppy, bitter brew from Brasserie de la Senne, and a pure and refreshing Cantillon lambic.
The menu contains a long list of Brussels specialties, including classics like witloof and ham gratin and stoofvlees, Flemish stew. But I’m tempted by the duo of sausages, while my friends order spaghetti carbonara and meatloaf with stoemp, potatoes mashed with a variety of veg.
Everything comes out fast and steaming hot. The ample slice of juicy meatloaf has a crispy golden crust and comes in a bowl filled to the brim with stoemp and a drizzle of gravy.
The carbonara is the best any of us has ever eaten. Al dente strands of spaghetti are covered with a sauce of browned butter and bits of bacon. There’s a raw egg yolk on the side, which adds a silky texture to the sauce. Topped off with grated cheese, this is the definition of comfort food.
The sausage duo is made up of black and white pudding, both equally fat and flavourful, with a hint of spice. The dish comes with its appropriate taste counterparts: sweet warm apples and lumpy mash.
We’re already feeling happy when the bill comes to a mere €50 altogether. I love this city.
Blaesstraat 170, Brussels; 02.512.13.43
Mon & Sat 6.00-18.00; Tue-Fri & Sun 6.00-19.00
Authentic Marollen café-restaurant serving only local dishes and with a fantastic list of beers
This article first appeared in Flanders Today