For most residents of Central Pennsylvania, the area is probably best known for the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show, the apartment fires featured on the nightly news, and the sight of pitchers of Yuengling Lager (referred to simply as "Lager" here, as in, "I'll have a Lager") sliding across bars throughout the Susquehanna Valley. The rest of you might know the region for its quality craft breweriesâ€”particularly TrÃ¶egsÂ and Stoudts. What no one should expect to find is a restaurant that exclusively serves Belgian beers on a side street in a town of 18,000 residentsâ€”a restaurant with a line of people spilling out and onto that street to drink $8 beers that moveÂ like $4 pitchers of Lager during the Super Bowl. And yet that's just what you'll find at CafÃ© Bruges, in downtown Carlisle, PA.
CafÃ©Â Bruges has just six taps, but they also have up to 115 bottled beers at any given time, so there's something for every stripe of Belgian beer lover. The Troubadour Magma (the second tap from the right) pours a deep and malty orange and comes in at 9% ABV, despite the beer board's claim to 8%. It's a Belgian IPA, and it walks the line perfectly by not screaming "Belgian" or "IPA" to an overwhelming extent; this is a great middle-of-the-road beer for people who are not generally in love with the Belgian style but want to swing in for a cold one after work.
The decor is both casual and comfortable, the design of which allows everyone full view of the place as they enjoy all that good Belgian beer. Conversations between tables amongst total strangers are common and encouragedâ€”after all, who wouldn't like to talk about their beer and the damn fine food it accompanies?
In certain seats, it almost feels as though you're at the same table as some of these other beer drinkers, and it brings the room together in a way that makes the night (day? morning?) livelier than would normally be the case.
What's on the menu here runs from various egg plates at brunch, to sandwiches and quiche at lunch, followed by mussels, rabbitÂ fricassee, steak, stew, and assorted burgers for dinner. The mussels are always great, and the Belgian waffleâ€”the king of desserts hereâ€”is supreme in its deliciousness (once you smell it, you'll start looking for perfume that'll make your wife smell the same).
The frites are worth a stop on their own, as they come with an assortment of dipping sauces. Litter your table with ramekins and give them all a try (the horseradish sauce is so good you'll find yourself putting it on everything on your plate).
In the giant rotation of nothing-but-Belgian bottled beers, all of the styles are represented: lambics, dubbles, tripels, blonds, saisons . . . ad infinitum (or close enough). As noted above, they have six taps, and sticking with what works they don't mix up the lineup too often. One thing you won't see on tap is Stella Artois, which should make your inner beer snob happy.
The beer selection ranges from the likes of Zot, which you've likely had before, to beers from De Struise Brouwers, which you likely haven't.
Some beer-related literature on CafÃ©Â Bruges' website tells you, "Beer in the middle ages was safer to drink than water, and the average person consumed about a gallon a day." Â Once you get into the beer menu here, you'll be wishing you had an excuse like that.
If you've come in by yourself, you can read about beer while you drink away your loneliness.
CafÃ© Bruges is one of the few bars in the United StatesÂ to serve Belgian beer exclusively. So if you pass through Central PA, stopping here is easy and worth your whileâ€”it's located at the I-76/I-81 interchange in the great little college town of Carlisle (which is also home of the U.S. Army War College, to boot).
16 North Pitt Street
Carlisle PA 17013