Beneluxx is an unabashedly educational bar, devoted to teaching its customers/students to appreciate fine beer, wine, cheese and chocolate. These are the four food groups as far as Joe and I are concerned, so we were excited when we sought out this recently opened below-ground bar on a rainy Friday night. Mind you, this doesn’t take away from the fun.
The offerings fall into those four categories, plus a page of small dishes such as fondue, crepes, salads and pizzas. The menu gives detailed descriptions of all of its offerings and suggests some pairings (wine/cheese, beer/cheese, wine/chocolate, etc.). Better yet, it offers tasting sizes of its offerings, which encourages customers to try new beers, wines and cheeses, compare their flavors, and experiment with their own pairings. (And the tasting sizes come in beakers! Cute.) If you’ve always wondered why people make such a big deal about wine and cheese, this is a great place to start.
Beneluxx is run by the same people who own Eulogy, a Belgian beer bar in Old City that’s been a favorite of mine since long before we moved to Philly. While Eulogy has an intimidatingly huge beer menu, Beneluxx focuses on being accessible to customers who are new to the world of beer– it offers a small but well-chosen selection. I’ll be curious to see if and how it changes over time.
We sat next to an open window that looked onto a funky little wine cellar that was actually below the sidewalk, and the empty tables quickly filled with several large groups. The decor is basic, with wooden tables and a long bench seat running along the wall. There’s a cheese case up front, and a refrigerated display case in back that shows all of the wines on tap (yes, on tap). Every table has an ingenious little glass-washing fountain– that way you can refill your glass with lots of different beverages without mixing flavors.
Beneluxx has only been open for two weeks, and there are still some kinks to be worked out. Our servers were friendly and very knowledgeable, but they seemed to be bumping into each other a lot when things got crowded.
We started with a selection of cheeses. I got a pairing to start, Brooklyner Weisse, a light-colored but potent wheat beer, with Ewephoria, a sheep’s cheese. It was sharp and salty and crack-like in its potential for addiction. The pairing was interesting– most pairings take two tame elements and make the flavors pop onto your palate, but this one took an aggressive beer and an aggressive cheese and allowed their flavors to tame each other. We also got a bleu, a gouda, a lovely creamy sheep’s-milk cheese and an amazing soft goat cheese. The goat cheese went particularly well with my next beer, the always wonderful Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar.
We also got the Swiss fondue, a small ramekin of creamy, winey molten cheese. You can choose from a variety of dippables– we chose bread and chorizo. It’s a fairly small portion, but that’s the idea– lots of small munchies so you can taste plenty of different things. The Roman pizza, a garlicky margherita pizza, was made with such juicy fresh tomatoes that it was hard to keep them on the pizza! Our food highlight, however, was the sausage crepes. There are several of these on the menu– one whole sausage wrapped in a crepe and garnished with something delicious. I got a wild boar sausage garnished with a savory cherry-port wine sauce and yummy spiced cherries; Joe ordered a duck sausage with grana padano cheese, melon and truffle vinaigrette. Both were inventive and totally delicious.
We finished our noshing session with some chocolate samples– three kinds of semisweet chocolate and a white chocolate-and-wine pairing. Our server misunderstood and brought me brie instead of white chocolate, the other food with which this particular wine was paired; that was an excellent pairing, but I was a little underwhelmed by the white chocolate when it came. I’m not normally a fan of white chocolate, but I thought I’d give it a fair chance and eat one made by Valhrona and served with a specially paired wine. I still wasn’t that into it; sorry, white chocolate, I guess we’re just not meant to be. After all, technically, you’re nothing but chocolate byproduct.
The semisweet chocolates were lovely; we had fun closing our eyes and guessing which one we were eating. Single-origin chocolates are complex enough that you really can distinguish them from one another– it’s a world away from the Hershey’s this Pennsylvania girl grew up on. We were surprised at the generous portions; as Mac and Cheese’s review points out, it turns out an ounce of chocolate is kind of a lot.
As we left, our server, who’d been run ragged by huge groups all night, caught us at the door and asked us how we liked everything. We got into a bit of a conversation, and it became clear that she was a serious foodie who knew her beer, cheese and chocolate. She was so genuine– we really liked her, and the bar as well.
If you’re gluten free, by the way, this is a great spot– just ask them to leave the bread off of your cheese plate, fondue, or salad, order a glass of wine, and you’re set. Not recommended for dairy-free diets. Vegetarians have plenty of options as well.
Beneluxx still has some issues to work on: the service is set up in kind of a inefficient way, and while I appreciate the informative menu, the pairings are a little haphazard. But the concept is sound: if you go to Beneluxx, you’ll expand your palate, learn more about your favorite fermented treats, and have a lot of fun doing it.
[where: 33 S 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106]