Zot Review: Mussel-ing In

Zot bests the rest with 30-plus versions of this Belgian standard

A restaurant should always know what it is, and, perhaps more importantly, what it is not. This point has never seemed truer than during my recent visits to Zot, near Headhouse Square. Is Zot a bar? A restaurant? Is it authentic Belgian? Is it a fine-dining spot, or a casual place for beer and mussels?


A restaurant should always know what it is, and, perhaps more importantly, what it is not. This point has never seemed truer than during my recent visits to Zot, near Headhouse Square. Is Zot a bar? A restaurant? Is it authentic Belgian? Is it a fine-dining spot, or a casual place for beer and mussels?

Maybe it’s the physical space that confuses. The front room is dark and cavernous, creepily suggesting a monastery; the middle room is a lively, well-lit bar with two TVs; the back room is a romantic dining area with exposed beams. Perhaps the confusion lies in the gimmicky mix-and-match menu. Or maybe it’s just the ­frites: What “authentic” Belgian spot would serve such skinny, limp, McDonald’s-esque fries?

Zot’s co-owners don’t have a clear answer. “I want to become the Mussels King of America,” says Belgian-born chef Bernard Dehaene. Meanwhile, his partner Tim Trevan says, “We want to avoid just being known as a beer-and-mussels place. Not that it’s bad to be known as a mussels place.”

It’s inevitable: Zot will be known as a mussels place. And that’s actually a very good thing.

The restaurant is already going through literally a ton of mussels each month — shipped in from the cold waters off Prince Edward Island. Dehaene currently prepares them 32 ways. (Eventually there will be 50 options.) The mussels are smaller and more tender than those served at most places, and the broths are perfect to dip your bread into. Among my favorites: Jamaican, with coconut milk, curry and Red Stripe beer; Bruxelles, with bacon, beer, garlic, goat cheese and leeks; and Red Devil, with harissa, beer and tomato. Dehaene also serves delicious gratinéed mussels, a classic Belgian dish, as an appetizer.

Unfortunately, the entrées aren’t as consistent. A bright spot was the sausages made in-house; both the merguez and wild boar versions were excellent. But nearly every other entrée we ordered — the rump steak, the kangaroo, the Cornish hen — was overcooked. The design-your-own-meal menu allows diners to chose from more than two dozen meats, eight fishes, and about 20 different sauces, from béarnaise to tarragon crème. But how many diners know what to pair with kangaroo? I want a talented chef to make these decisions — or at least more description of the sauces.

The servers do their best to explain and advise. But on two of three visits, they all but disappeared, leaving us for long stretches with empty beer glasses, an unforgivable sin in a place like Zot, which has more than 300 brews — from intense, sweet Belgian Kasteel Brown to unique Aldaris Gold pale lager from Latvia.

But even with its problems, I’d recommend Zot. There’s no shame in being a beer-and-­mussels place — especially when you do mussels better than standbys like Monk’s, Abbaye and Eulogy.

Zot, 122 Lombard Street, 267-639-3260, zotrestaurant.com

Food: B

Service: C

Atmosphere: B+

Average entrée cost: $14-$18

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