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Thursday, January 10,2013

Beers, burgers and Belgium

By Clay Fong
Photo by Susan France

West Flanders is a Belgian province known for significant events in both World Wars, notably the bloody fighting around Ypres and the Dunkirk evacuation. It also has a reputation for the peculiar practice of cat flinging. Lastly, and perhaps most relevantly, it has a longstanding tradition of brewing high-quality beers.

It comes as no surprise, then, that this locale is the namesake for Pearl Street’s West Flanders Brewing Company. The folks behind it include, among others, Mark and Chris Heinritz, who own The Sink, and Barry Wolfman, manager of that Hill institution. Beer duties fall to brewmaster Brian Lutz, who helped develop Dale’s Pale Ale, a beverage that had a cameo in the film SEAL Team 6: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden.

At first glance, the menu reflects that of a straightforward brewpub, and it’s easy to see a familial resemblance to The Sink. There are the requisite burgers, salads and pizza. But friend Jeff and I noticed during a recent lunch that some items are decidedly outside the brewpub box. Examples of this ambition include pumpkin risotto and such meatless items as arugula and quinoa salad.

This microbrewery counts several Belgian-inspired brews of its own creation among the liquid offerings. These include the Daisy Cutter, which is a strong ale, the Trippel Lutz and the dark red St. Mark’s Dubbel. Besides other domestic beers, there are many European offerings, including several Belgian choices on tap and in the bottle.

A $4.75 bowl of cheddar ale soup arrived attractively presented in an angular bowl you’d expect in a fine dining restaurant. A dusting of green herbs and two pleasingly crunchy croutons enhanced eye appeal. Texture is key to successful cheese soup. Make it too thick and diners think they’re spooning straight cheese sauce; make it too thin and it seems the restaurant went cheap and watered it down. As Goldilocks would put it, the texture here was just right. The only suggestion would be to add more ale, to better round out the authentic cheddar taste.

Jeff ordered a $10 Sicilian turkey on focaccia bread. It’s tough to make a distinctive turkey sandwich, and West Flanders makes a good go of it. Italian-inspired additions of grilled salami, provolone and herb vinaigrette give it more character than the usual poultry creation. Perhaps more importantly, everything about this sandwich exuded freshness, from the lemon and tomato to the exceptionally clean flavor.

Both our hostess and server enthusiastically recommended the burgers. But even I thought the suggestion of the Smokestack sandwich would be a little extreme given its heavy freight of grass-fed beef patty, bacon and pulled pork.

Instead, I went for a special, the $12 bleu peppercorn burger, featuring blue cheese, cheddar, fried onion and bacon. This was a well-rounded burger; each flavor balanced the other out. Additionally, the flavorful adornments didn’t obscure the clean taste of grass-fed meat. On the side was a generous pile of house-made potato chips that were crisp, warm, perfectly salted and absolutely addictive.

My conjecture is West Flanders’ aspirations are beyond those of a typical brewpub, especially given the commitment to crafting its own Belgian-style brews. The quality execution of the burger, as well as other dishes, also evidences a desire to serve fare that’s a cut above.

West Flanders Brewing Company is located at 1125 Pearl St. in Boulder. Call 303-447-BREW.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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