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Go-to gourmet: 14 independent food stores in downtown Brussels
Downtown Brussels has always had its share of fine gourmet food stores, but in the second half of the 20th century, as inhabitants fled the centre, the number of stores dwindled.
Now, as the resident population rises again, the surviving stores are joined by a slew of new places. These stores are characterised by carefully sourced products from small producers - or products created by the store owners - and by the enthusiasm and passion of the owners which is evident as they are clearly thrilled to share their extensive knowledge and make sure you get exactly what you are looking for.
The stores are all within the pentagon and are all individually owned businesses. This list is far from exhaustive and is just a sample of what you can find.
In downtown Brussels since 1951, Catherine survived the massive demographic changes of the 1960s and 70s in the city centre, when inhabitants became scarce, to flourish today. What is their secret? Service à l’ancienne which includes not only a network of specialist cheesemakers from Belgium, France, the UK, Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Ireland, but also detailed information and knowledge from owners Catherine and José so that you can make the best choice. This means that everyone gets total attention while they are ordering - but it also means that the queue can get long as it spills out into the street. It’s worth the wait because the choice of cheeses is very wide and perfectly matured (if you’re looking for a farmhouse cheddar for instance, you will find a number of choices here), not to mention the excellent choices of patés and other fine meats. Breads from Poulain and other artisanal bakers are available as well as a small assortment of bottled and canned specialties. Lunchtime is to be avoided if you’re in a hurry since they do a brisk business of sandwiches made with any combination of their extensive selection and the queue gets even longer.
Rue du Midi 25
La Maison du Miel
Founded in 1887, this store has been on the Rue du Midi from the beginning, but at this particular location since 1951. Still owned by the same family, they sell more than 60 different honeys from all over the world, for instance lavender honey from France, lemon honey from Spain, clover honey from Canada, thyme honey from Greece, manuka honey from New Zealand and wild flower honey from Brussels. They also have an extensive selection of honey-based products such as mead, sweets, royal jelly, propolis, cosmetics, nasal spray and pollen. The owners are very knowledgeable and will recommend different honeys for different health or culinary reasons.
Rue du Midi 121
This is one of the newest specialty food stores in downtown Brussels and looks it, with its clean contemporary design including its see-through cheese ripening rooms. The stars here are the cheeses selected by the French owner Véronique and sold with all the information and personal care by her and her son. The store has a cheese bar and Véronique offers cheese boards, fondues, lambic beers on tap and desserts for on-site eating. As a French person she was pleasantly surprised by the wide range of Belgian cheeses and she stocks a broad selection (for instance four different Belgian blues) as well as plenty of cheeses from other countries of course. A bright, airy place.
Rue du Marché au Charbon 99-103
If you are a coffee lover, Corica is an essential Brussels address. They first started roasting coffee in 1850 and have been at this location since 1984. What you will find here is more than 20 different single origin coffees and two blends, all roasted on-site. The coffees come from Australia, Brazil, Burundi, Columbia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ethiopia; Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Jamaica, Java, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Peru. The store has a stand-up bar where you can drink an espresso, lungo, ristretto, latte or cappuccino, which is a great way to taste before buying your beans. The owners are almost always on-site and both they and their perfectly trained baristas are eager to share their knowledge for your benefit. Many consider this the best coffee in Brussels and the large number of regulars and knowledgeable tourists guarantees lively conversations in many languages. A selection of teas (black, green, white oolong and flavoured) as well as coffee machines, spare parts and accessories and an assortment of sweets and jams are available.
Rue du Marché aux Poulets 49
In downtown Brussels since 2009, Charli was an immediate hit - so much so that they are now open seven days a week - with their (addictive) sourdough breads and their breakfast pastries and regular pastries. Their flour is made with 100% pure organic or CRC-labelled cereals and is stoned milled. The salt is organic tavira from Portugal, the eggs are free-range, the butter is churned thermised butter and all the fruit used is either fresh Belgian fruit or pure fruit purée. All their creams are made fresh every morning. Everything they sell is made in their workshops. There’s a small sitting area and coffee is available.
Rue Sainte-Catherine 34
Le Comptoir de Tom
This store is a combination of charcuterie, cheese shop, traiteur and deli. The pride of place goes to their cold cuts from artisanal Belgian, French, Italian, Corsican and Spanish sources: hams, salami, sausages, patés and more. The deli specialties include Belgian meatballs, Alsatian sauerkraut garnished with traditional meats, different prepared américains (steak tartare), various salads and a number of other hot and cold dishes to take home. A high point is during the Christmas season when they offer more than 40 sorts of white and black boudins. To accessorise these cheeses, cold cuts and prepared dishes, they offer a selection of fine canned and bottled products as well as a choice of wines. Build-your-own sandwiches are a hit at lunchtime.
Rue Sainte-Catherine 23
Over the last few years, the name Dierendonck has become synonymous with the best Belgian butchering. Restaurants such as Mauru, La Paix, In de Wulf, The Jane and Pistolet Original proudly let their customers know that they use mostly or only Dierendonck products, and at the Brussels store, there’s often a queue spilling out into the street. Hendrik Dierendonck has brought back an ancient breed known as the Flemish Red, a meat that gets its taste from the “fat grass” in the meadows near the Belgian coast on which his herd graze. He also sells poultry, pork, hare and game from small producers across Europe. And all the cold cuts they sell in the Brussels store are traditional Belgian recipes.
Rue Sainte-Catherine 24
Founded in 1950 as a purveyor of mushrooms, both wild and farmed, Champigros still has a very wide mushroom selection but also sells luxury products such as caviar, truffles and foie gras as well as high end, perfect-looking vegetables and fruit and much game: partridge, pheasant, venison and wild boar. Organic or naturally cultivated, their fresh fruit, vegetables and mushrooms are always seasonal. They also have a wide selection of specialty oils, vinegars, teas and spices.
Rue Sainte-Catherine 36
Crèmerie de Linkebeek
Founded in 1902, the Crèmerie claims to be the oldest cheese shop in Brussels. Their 140 cheeses come from Belgium, France and the Netherlands. They carry a limited selection (based on what they like to drink) of wines and beers as well as fine meats and prepared dishes such as cheese croquettes and New York-style cheesecake. Sandwiches at lunch (limited supply so if you are a late luncher you may be disappointed).
Vieux Marché aux Grains 4
There are many Italian gourmet food stores in Brussels so it is hard to pick just one. One could spend days visiting all of them. Medusa, deli and enoteca, is a tiny store on the Fish Market that carries freshly made dishes: daily fresh pasta, pizzas, fennel sausages, homemade ricotta, homemade limoncello and mandarincello, prepared olives, and tapenades. Their wine selection is vast, covering all the regions of Italy and you can try them out in their wine bar as well as take bottles home. Finally they also have fine food products such as olive oil and coffee.
Quai aux Briques 84
Jean Charles Zaqhine is a young Parisian, who after a career cooking in luxury hotels and other high-end restaurants, has brought his pastry-making talents to Brussels. His training has been with Japanese pastry chefs and his productions are both a delight for the eyes and for the tastebuds. He uses very little sugar, preferring to source his ingredients (nuts, fruit, spices, chocolate) from small producers and working them to produce amazing depths of flavour which are then combined to create remarkable end products. His store is a very welcome addition to the Brussels food scene.
Rue Haute 192
Spek & Boonen
An unassuming little butcher shop that looks like any local Belgian butcher shop but is much more than that. All the meats come from free-range pork and beef raised by small family producers. The pork is Belgian, the Black Angus beef is from a family farm in Ireland. All the cold cuts and other products are prepared on-site using traditional methods and all meat-based products are aged for up to a month. There’s also a small selection of poultry from small producers. Their house paté is worth the trip alone.
Rue Blaes 155
This traiteur on the picturesque rue de la Fourche, in its 51st year, is the epitome of the classic traiteur with its preparations of high gastronomy. Currently under the direction of Alessandro Pandin, the store offers a multitude of dishes all prepared in their kitchens as well as fine canned and bottled products, sweets and wine. Almost everything is from Italian or French culinary traditions. They also have a complete business lunch programme, ranging from finger food to buffets all with delivery service which is also available for residential delivery (phone orders welcome) including dinner.
Rue de la Fourche 47
C’est Si Bon
This bakery is on the other side of the canal so technically it’s not in the pentagon but it’s just inches away and is unique in that since the chef Christian Celej apprenticed in both French and German bakeries in a number of small towns, he produces a wide variety of breads, many of them German breads that we just don’t see very often. Additionally, his breakfast pastries, especially his versions of what some people call Suisses Rondes and others call Escargots, are stupendous. There are also croissants, madeleines, lemon cake and brownies. Be prepared for a queue.
Quai des Charbonnages 46, Molenbeek