The Belgian Connection

With mussels, beer, and featherbowling, east-side institution Cadieux Café offers a slice of European culture

When you set foot into the Cadieux Café, or “Caddie Caf” as regulars like to call it, it’s easy to ignore a thunderstorm — or this year’s Lions season.

The Cadieux Café serves up a distinct mood because it is such a distinct place — it was a slice of home for Belgian immigrants in the early 20th century. Paintings of Western European villages hang on the walls next to portraits of racing cyclists and sports memorabilia.

The lighting is low and a Belgian crest adorned with lions of red, gold, and black hangs above the entryway. The décor and the café have a sense of honesty that only comes with an establishment that has weathered everything from Prohibition to The Great Recession.

Belgian culture extends to the food and drink. A menu of drafts and bottles will astound anyone whose only experience with Belgian beer is Stella Artois. There’s Lindeman’s peche peach lambic, a peach-infused beer whose wine-like aroma belies a full, fruity taste that isn’t overly sweet. A draft of Affligem blonde had a similarly rich feel and a more traditional taste.

There weren’t enough hours in the night or dollars in my bank account to try each of the 16 specialty beers or their assortment of Michigan brews.

For dinner, I chose a Caddie Caf specialty: Robert’s Spicy Mussels. They serve up four different varieties of mussel entrees, with several more on the appetizer menu including Mussels Rockefeller. (“As rich as its namesake,” the café claims online.)

The mussels were the perfect combination of heat and savor. Each mussel you slurp out of the shell carries with it a stunning array of flavors; the spicy broth, the drawn butter, and made-in-house Dijon sauce elevate them above even the highest-grade bar food.

The Cadieux also offers hearty indulgences like Belgian Rabbit and the Belgian Beer Stew, made with the famous Westmalle brewery’s Dubbel.

Belgian authenticity takes physical form in the bar’s resident game: featherbowling, which is a piece of traditional Belgium that seems to only live on in the Cadieux. Modern Belgians have questioned whether the game is truly an old Belgian tradition, says Erik Greer, president of the Cadieux’s featherbowling league.

Featherbowling is a combination of bowling and cornhole that involves rolling fat disks up and down a trench. In a room adjoining the bar, two 70-foot lanes of clay, dirt, and sawdust sprawl from one end to the other. Two teams of players on either end of the trench aim to have their disc topple over as close as they can to a pigeon feather sticking out of the trench on the far end. The mix of trigonometry, faith, and ale-induced luck makes a round of featherbowling memorable and as intoxicating as any of the Belgian drafts.

The Cadieux is a singular place, and it feels like it could only exist in Detroit; the city and bar both keep on being only themselves, long after the rest of the world moved on.

4300 Cadieux Rd., Detroit; 313-882-8560; D Nightly.