February 02, 2006

Monk’s Café

“Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
–Benjamin Franklin

If you’ve ever been to Monk’s Cafe, you will understand what it is about this beverage that inspired Ben opine on it as he did. No doubt this quote has been uttered in Monk’s a time or two. I’m sure I’ve tried to recite it myself while sitting at the bar, which is difficult to do after you’ve quaffed a few Kwaks.

The principal reason to go to this Old World, Belgian-style pub, of course, is the beer. Monk’s beer selection is staggeringly vast. If you have trouble making decisions or if you’re intimidated by a beer list that’s longer than Bill Gates’ tax return, this may not be the place for you. But if you love great beer or are simply open to adventure, you’ll be right at home. There are tools to guide you. Monk’s Beer Bible is always within reach. You can also pick from the beers on draught at the Front Bar. Also, don’t overlook the impressive array of Belgian beers on draught at the Back Bar. I recommend asking the bartenders or your server for advice. If you do, they may begin to quiz you like you just arrived to pick their daughter up to go to the prom. Don’t be alarmed. Selecting a beer at Monk’s is a serious matter; they’re just trying to learn about your tastes to pair you with a beer you’ll enjoy. Trust them. These folks are smart. Answer their questions, and follow their advice. You will not be disappointed.

We asked the bartender if she could recommend something new. The bartender recommended St. Feuillien Tripel. She chose wisely. Traditionally, a tripel is a light-bodied beer with a sweet flavor from the malt that is balanced by the bitterness of the hops. This tripel was unique; it was not too sweet, not too hoppy and very smooth. The second beer we had was a La Rulles Tripel, an admirable tripel—fruity and spicy with a nice citrus finish. The alcohol content of these beers can rock you back on your stool. Just be aware.

Oh … and Monk’s has food, too. Good food. If beer is the principal reason to go to Monk’s, the second reason to go is the mussels. At least that’s what I hear. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of mussels in general, so I cannot speak from much experience. But from what I’ve heard from those who enjoy mussels, the offerings at Monk’s can’t be beat.

This night I decided to start with the veal cheeks, which are braised in Abbaye de Leffe Belgian ale with vegetables, spanish olives, garlic and herbs. The veal was juicy and full of flavor. It’s a sophisticated and rewarding starter. For the main course, I went with old faithful—a burger with blue cheese and a side of pommes frites. The burger is served on a roll so delicious it would make even Dr. Robert Atkins drool (and that guy’s dead, so you know this is quality bread). Monk’s frites are short, thin and have a thorough dusting of spices. Not what I would consider traditional Belgian frites, but good nonetheless. They are served with bourbon mayonnaise. Again, a different spin on the traditional condiment for Belgian frites and, I’ll admit, not my favorite part of the meal, but it works.

This place is always packed. Standing room only. So arrive abnormally early or learn to be patient, which is not too difficult to do while you’re enjoying a bottle of Troublette.

Monk’s Café
16th and Spruce Street
(215) 545-7005

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