Posted On: 11/01/2013
1801 Park Ave., St. Louis, 314.678.7787, tripelstl.com
You still good? Ready to order something?” asks the bartender at Tripel, raising his voice above the heavy din of the crowd on a Saturday night.
“Yeah. Something different this time. A bottle of the Houblon Chouffe,” I say, flipping the menu closed.
“Nice.” He smiles and quickly returns with a fat bottle and tulip glass in hand. A quick tilt and long pour result in an impossibly thick and creamy head topped with a pointy cap, oddly similar to the cartoon elf’s hat adorning the Chouffe bottle.
Between the drafts, bottles, glassware and perfect pours, beer is the central preoccupation at Tripel, a new Belgium-themed brasserie perched near the corner of 18th Street and Park Avenue in Lafayette Square. The term tripel is a designation for extra-strong beer fashioned in the European Low Countries – traditionally by Trappist monks who subsidized their monasteries by operating breweries. True to its name, Tripel’s streamlined beer menu flows decidedly thick with bottles and drafts of golden ales, wheats, saisons, brown ales, Trappist beers, fruity lambics and sour ales, each matched with its own proper glassware. Sixteen tall, gleaming taps pour a steady stream of crowd favorites – Duvel, Hoegaarden, Stella Artois. But there’s considerably more fun to be had with choices like the Gulden Draak 9000 – an outstanding quadruple with an amber body, a 10.5 ABV, and a complex-tasting mix of fruit and toffee flavors.
Certainly beer-centric, the bar nonetheless pays noticeable attention to detail in its cocktails with a handful of Euro-fusion sippers reinforced with small-batch liquors and fresh garnishes. Generous sprigs of mint adorn the masterful gin-soaked Good Day Sir, a substantial and refreshing mix of Hayman’s Old Tom gin with a splash of Barolo Chinato. Similarly impressive is the bar’s take on the Pimm’s Cup, a tall and imposing cocktail that is infused with flavors of cucumber and strawberry.
The wine list overflows with mainly French varieties, including a handful of approachable and affordable by-the-glass options. Overall, the beer and wine offerings potently pair with the food menu, both of which, like Belgium itself, are permeated by hearty and decadent French and Dutch flavors. Plates here are simple, robust and meant to be passed around. Don’t even bother searching for anything light. Indulgence is the order of the day. The moules Normandes, one of six varieties of pan-steamed mussels, was served in a rich, bacon- and apple-laced cream sauce that I greedily sopped up with thick, crusty slices of warm bread. A star among the small plates was the crisp yet tender pomme frites, served in a paper cone alongside an oversized dollop of thick mayo. Also noteworthy was the cailles, a savory-sweet quail appetizer served on a bed of braised red cabbage and apples.
Though Tripel’s dining area is loud and boisterous (The long tables come with the standard groups of excited friends.), its bar side is a serious date night spot and a haven for smartly dressed, older patrons who vie for seats at the rich wooden bar where candlelight flickers off rows of hanging glassware. With inspired offerings at this rustic, Old World retreat, Tripel was tailor-made for Lafayette Square.
“You like it?” says the bartender, motioning to my glass, empty save a few specks of foam.
“Yeah,” I say with a smile. “How could you tell?”
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