You don’t need to open the menu at Jean Philippe Mathieu’s Washington Avenue cafe to know where he’s coming from. The vintage prints of cartoon hero Tintin hanging on the whitewashed wood-slat walls let you know you’ve found a piece of Belgium on South Beach.
The home-style bill of fare confirms your luck: meatballs in Provençal sauce; the mittraillet (submachine gun) on a baguette with beef, frites (fries) and mayo sauce and sandwiches with merguez (lamb sausage) and saucisson (dry cured salami) along with crepes, salads and omelets.
The name of the kingdom wedged between France, Germany and the Netherlands is derived from an ancient Celtic tribe known in Latin as the Belgae that occupied the region. Jean is from Liege in the Meuse River Valley in the eastern part of the country and grew up in his father’s restaurant. He went on to own a quick delivery company with a fleet of trucks, but sold it and came to Miami in 2010. He opened Jean La Frite in July with his wife, Sandrine, at the counter.
The signature frites are sold in paper cones, and there are holes in the wood tables to hold them. They are thick, hand-cut and fried twice for extra crispiness, served with spicy mayo sauce or andalouse sauce, a Belgian take on Spanish gazpacho based on mayo and tomato paste.
Frikandel are small, skinless, deep-fried ground beef and chicken sausages. Snails are cooked in garlic butter nestled in mushroom caps. Frogs legs swim in cream sauce with white wine. Popot Bruxelles is a homey stew with chunks of potato and beef in seasoned tomato sauce. Carbonade flamande is beef stew simmered for hours in dark beer served with apple-pear jam for mixing in.
Wash it down with Peche St. Louis lambic (peach-infused wheat beer) or Petrus top-fermented blonde ale. End with a small, puffy, Liege-style cinnamon-laced waffle drizzled with Nutella. Or just sip a raspberry beer.