GO.SEE.DO | SUMMER 2019 Go.See.Do
Brussels Bistro Honors Belgian Food, Beer & Spirit BY CARI HACHMANN
wo Belgians grew up together and followed their dream in opening not one, but two restaurants in the beachside communities of San Clemente and Laguna Beach. Nicolas Servais and Thomas Crijns, both 42 years old, opened the doors this February to their second location of Brussels Bistro on Avenida Del Mar. Servais manages and runs the front of the house, while Crijns is the chef and creator of Brussels’ eclectic Belgian-inspired menu. Both studied at Belgium’s Ecole Hotelière de la Province de Namur, specializing in the restaurant business. Servais said their new restaurant brings the Belgian experience to San Clemente. “We want people to travel when they come to Brussels Bistro— through the menu and the beer, but also we wanted the atmosphere,” Servais said, in an interview with the San Clemente Times. The friends spent two years searching up and down the southern California coast before they found the perfect space for their restaurant on Del Mar, a spot formerly occupied by Selma’s Chicago Pizzeria. The location reminded Servais of the kind of bustling, pedestrianfriendly streets back home in Belgium. “The pedestrian area of Del Mar is just perfect for us. People are just walking down the street. That was important for us,” he said. The Belgians made some changes to the former pizzeria, with its structural design completed by their friend and fellow Belgian, Delphine Mauroit, a New York-based interior designer. In one corner, there is the “Fritkot” or “fry shack,” which are little houses that fries are served out of and can be seen everywhere in his home country, according to Servais. Then, near the restaurant’s entrance, there is the notable statuette of a little boy peeing into a fountain, called “Mannekan Pis.” For the story behind it, you will have to make your way down to the restaurant and read the menu. Most importantly, Servais said, is the very long and spacious bar, which holds a special place in Belgian culture: the beer. “It is super important. . . . We only sell Belgian beer,” he said. Brussels offers 40 different Belgian beers and “every single beer has its own glass,” Servais said. He clarified that Belgians pour beer
differently than the American way, “because we pour it with foam,” he said, and for various reasons related to flavor and protecting the beer from overexposure to oxygen. The restaurant owners have spent a lot of time training their employees to bridge the gap between the two cultures, and relaying it to new clientele who often have questions about the way they do things. “We try to offer something different,” said Servais. “This is a very special thing.” On the Brussels Bistro menu, customers will find all authentic Belgian recipes, with some tailoring to the
American way. “If you eat it here, you will eat it the exact same way in Belgium,” Servais said. Mussels and fries are a popular dish in his home country. Brussels Bistro gets theirs fresh from a farm in Washington, where they are delivered several times a week and offered at the bistro in eight different flavored broths that come in small- or large-size pots. In Belgium, mussels typically come from the North Sea. A separate dessert menu offers Belgian chocolate decadence, crepes, waffles and delicious pastries. Servais moved to the area just more than three years ago and lives with his wife and two kids in Laguna Niguel. Crijns, who has been in the United States for close to 13 years, lives locally in San Clemente. They chose the area for the good climate and quality of life. “It’s a nice community, a nice city. We love it. We love the atmosphere,” said Servais. When his family first arrived, his Belgian-born kids didn’t speak a word of English, but they were dropped off at school, anyway. Servais admits the first couple weeks were a little rough, but everyone is adjusting, and their English, like his, is improving. The kids also love to visit their dad at the restaurant. Servais and Crijns are originally from Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve, a city located in the Belgian province of Walloon Brabant, about a 45-minute drive from Brussels. The two have known each other since birth. The goal for their restaurants, Servais said, is to build long-lasting relationships with their guests and share a little piece of themselves and their culture. “We built this restaurant for the people living in San Clemente, so we want it to feel like if it were home. It is really important to us,” said Servais. The two entrepreneurs have talked about opening a third restaurant, but that’s talk for a later date. The Brussels Bistro locations include 218 Avenida Del Mar, San Clemente and 222 Forest Avenue, Laguna Beach. Brussels Bistro is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 10 pm. Sunday brunch is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Happy hour is every day from 4-6 p.m. with selected $5 drinks and menu items. Everyone is welcome.
San Clemente Times