John Moskowitz had spent his youth working at Jerry Joseph’s now-shuttered restaurant of the same name in Soho, notable for its French fries and closed to make room for a Michael Kors.
He moved to LA and tried to make it in television (writing briefly for the CBS hit show “Blue Bloods”) and then moved back and tried to make it with restaurants, opening a small corner bar-slash-café called Little King in Williamsburg, which won acclaim for its “cute bathrooms.” In this, he found success and it brought Moskowitz and partner Sam Esterman to a hilly corner of Bushwick, next to the “conspicuously unpretty” Bogart Hotel and conspicuously close to Roberta’s, that local dining bastion where people wait in hour-long lines for pizza.
Moskowitz has spent a lot of time thinking about Benelux, a restaurant concept that he is calling “Belgian Diner” and that is about four times the bistro size of Little King. The idea is less corny than the placemats at Wafels & Dinges but also not somewhere you’d need reservations or a five page menu to leaf through. The menu here is merely two sides inside a plastic laminated jacket. Half of this space is given to cocktails, wines and beers, a number of the latter can be bought for $6, some even cheaper during happy hour (4 p.m.-7p.m., everyday).
The menu’s centerpiece is a burger ($15): a pressed patty topped with mayonnaise that Moskowitz says is equally informed by Belgium’s affection for creamy dipping sauce as it is from the tang of the American South, per Colby Rasavong, the chef running the menu who hails from a restaurant called Husk, which Moskowitz says is “a big deal in Nashville.” The other major accent of Benelux’s menu is the mussels, a shelled treat that Moskowitz is particularly fond of.
“A big bowl of mussels is the most satisfying thing you can ever have,” he said. They run for $18 here, but come with fries.
Something else Moskowitz has learned about the neighborhood: “There are a lot more vegetarians here than on Graham Ave.”
He has adjudged the menu accordingly: all burgers can be made “impossible,” which is nice, and two curious vegetarian options are offered as entrées: a cabbage steak ($18) and waterzooi ($15). Waterzooi is a traditional Belgian dish that dates back over 500 years and which Rasavong serves with braised lentils in lieu of fish or chicken.
The interest in old school Belgian delicacies extends to the dessert menu, which weaves graciously into waffle country. The centerpiece here is a gentle and gooey snack-size stroopwafel, which can be consumed by itself ($5) iyor made into a very American-feeling makeshift ice cream sandwich ($9).
When summer happens again, tables will be wrapped around outside, near a gorgeous mural painted on the restaurant’s walls by Samantha French. Ice cream and beer sound ideal.
Cover photo courtesy of Benelux and of @aj_hauck