The literal translation of the French word “brasserie” is “brewery” or “beer shop,” but it now describes a casual restaurant that serves drinks and simple, typically inexpensive food. The concept has a social meaning, as well. A brasserie is where you meet friends, sometimes for a full meal but sometimes just for a drink, dessert or snack. It is an inherently informal place intended to accommodate a variety of needs and desires.
That seems to be the case with the new Brasserie Belge, which also enjoys the distinction of being Sarasota’s first in its category. It is on the ground floor of the Synovus Bank building on the corner of Main Street and U.S. 301. There are numerous seating choices: an enclosed restaurant, an outdoor terrace and tables in the building lobby. The interior space, designed by owner Christian Zebier and his wife, Sabrina VanBergen, is not formal, but handsome and intriguing.
The same can be said for the menu, which includes frites and chocolate mousse. Perhaps the most notable, though, is the “Spécialités de moules … famous Belgian pot of mussels.” The mollusks are quintessentially Belgian and apparently so loved that Belgians joke they should be on the flag. They come in four flavors: marinière (celery, onions and butter), crème ail (creamy garlic), vin blanc (white wine) and provençale (tomatoes, basil and Pastis, better known in the U.S. as Pernod). Brasserie Belge buys from a boutique Prince Edward Island farmer who ships every other day. All the varieties are served steaming hot in a large, white enamel pot, accompanied with Belgian fries and homemade mayonnaise.
Zebier, former caterer to the royal family of Belgium, owned two restaurants in the Brussels area. He still operates a catering services firm there, though he has relocated to Sarasota. The chef is Karl Neubourg, a Belgian who worked for Zebier in Brussels. The restaurant manager is Mirco Chiodi, an Italian who moved in 1997 to Sarasota and whose considerable local experience includes four years at The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort and five years at Fleming’s.
Address: 1990 Main St., Sarasota
Hours: Kitchen open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, bar and snack service until 1 a.m.
Yields two main course or four appetizer servings
1 small onion
4 stalks celery, finely diced
1 cup heavy cream
1 beefsteak or large Ugli tomato, peeled, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon demi glace*
4 to 5 tablespoons Ricard Pastis or Pernod
Salt and pepper
2 pounds Prince Edward Island mussels
*Available at Fresh Market
Combine the first seven ingredients in a deep pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add mussels. Cover and place over medium heat. Without opening the cover, shake the pot after five minutes, then cook five minutes longer (10 minutes total). Shake once again before serving. The mussels will have opened (discard any that have not), and you will have a delicious broth to soak up with crusty bread.