Detroit is crowded with ethnic restaurants: from tiny, obscure joints tucked inside bona fide neighborhoods to faux-cultural chains developed among expansive asphalt strip-mall parking lots. An unscientific study would probably reveal Italian being the most popular with Chinese a distant second, but every once in a while you stumble upon a place like Cadieux Café. The staple here is the cuisine of Belgium. Not exactly the type of food you find on every corner. Or is it?
In fact, it is widely considered that it was in Belgium where pommes frites were first created. Here in the United States, when Francophobe members of Congress aren't coming up with their own smug alliterations, we call them french fries. This is not a dish that should be overlooked based on its simplicity. Though they are merely deep-fried potatoes, how many times have you been underwhelmed by a plate of flaccid fries that couldn't be rescued by any amount of condiment?
That's because french fries (or "pomfrites," as Cadieux Café calls them) generally require a two-stage cooking process that ensures a stick of potato that is crunchy on the outside while maintaining a soft and creamy inside. We are pleased to report that Cadieux Café does them flawlessly and also offers the choice of tasty mayonnaise-based horseradish, garlic and spicy dipping sauces on the side. This classic pairing always compels us to lament the tedious standard of ketchup in the majority of restaurants that actually know how to cook a fry.
The "pomfrites" are essential eating, along with another core element of Belgian cuisine — mussels. The original mussels ($15.95) are steamed in white wine and vegetables and accompanied by both clarified butter and a mustard-and-vinegar sauce. It's difficult to imagine filling up on these small, meaty nuggets of the sea, but halfway through the large stainless-steel bowl overflowing with them you begin to wonder if you will be able to finish. Mussel devotees will want to hang out on Mondays and eat all they want for $13.95.
For a smaller course try an appetizer of mussels escargot topped with garlic butter and onions, mussels Rockefeller blanketed with spinach, bacon and cheese, mussels Creole steeped in a spicy Cajun sauce, or smoked mussels served with chopped onions and crackers. Mussel dinners can also be had with marinara or a wine and garlic based broth. We particularly enjoyed the tangy flavor of "mussels citroen" steamed in garlic, lemon butter and dill sauce.
Other nonmussel specialties include Belgian-style pork liver pâté and homemade Belgian sausage redolent of sage and nutmeg. There is the roast beef dinner or the Belgian dip sandwich or beer-braised chicken. The specialty spinach mashed potatoes were slightly bitter though interesting in their seasoning. On Sundays they offer a Belgian rabbit dinner.
It's not all Belgian. Appetizers range from a cheese plate and herring fillets to the more American chicken wings and fried cheese sticks. There are a dozen sandwiches and a number of fish entrées. Warm up with mussel soup or Belgian onion soup. One day the soup du jour was a Rueben filled with hunks of pastrami, sauerkraut and even caraway seeds to emulate rye bread. It was intensely flavorful even if the sauerkraut forced a tilt toward the salty side. There's also a large menu for the kiddies.
It is claimed that Belgium presents the most diverse range of quality beer in the world. If you're going to call yourself a Belgian café it's probably a good idea to have a decent selection. Cadieux Café doesn't disappoint here either. On tap, go for a glass of Hoegaarden, a zesty white ale spiced with coriander and orange. Or try one of the high octane abbey-style beers in the bottle. "Regular" beer drinkers will be pleased to find an abundant cooler. Choose from the Michigan-based Bell's to $2 cans of PBR.
Located near the border between the Grosse Pointes and Detroit — that unintended margin as distinct and provocative as any part of the metro region — Cadieux Café is remarkable for reasons beyond the food and beer. They boast the only feather bowling lanes in the country. Anyone that has ever played a game of bocce ought to recognize the simple rules. It seems fitting that the decor is '80s Elks lodge with laminated tables and bulky metal chairs. It's a bit dim and melancholy when empty but not uncomfortable.
The pace quickens later in the evenings. Tuesdays are jazz night, Wednesdays are karaoke and Thursdays are quiz night. Live bands play many of the weekends. Cadieux Café is a local corner pub and a destination. It is a place for the explorer whose comfort zone reaches beyond the easy and fashionable and deep into the truly eclectic dining and entertainment crannies of the city.
Kitchen is open 4-11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 4 p.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday. Bar open until 2 a.m. every night. Late-night menu is served until 1:30 a.m. Smoking permitted.
Todd Abrams dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.