Sovereign Belgian Bistro: 3 tips for a Georgetown hideaway
Exactly 170 feet from the madness at the corner of Wisconsin and M in Northwest Washington, D.C, down a dodgy alley, you'll find Sovereign, a cozy hideaway where you can get so far from the madness, you'll wind up in Belgium.
Tip #1: Drink Belgian beer
You'll find a massive list and variety of Belgian or Belgian-style beers here. But you won't find much familiar stuff. The list is ambitiously curated, with all beers either imported or made domestically by brewers who abide by old-school Belgian traditions.
The list is heavy with ales and stouts, with a lot of rich, layered brews. But happily the barkeeps are skilled at matching your preferences with their massive list. I told them I like a moderately hoppy IPA. Brent recommended De Ranke XX.
My wife likes wheat beers. A Sint Bernardus Wit-Blanche was slid in front of her.
Both were good matches. Both were just $8.
You want exotic? Some beers are sold only one to a customer [it is claimed] so Sovereign can conserve its stash.
Most beers hang in the $10 range, but watch out: Some of the rare imports can go for $90 per bottle.
Tip #2: Eat a Bicky Burger
First and most importantly: No horses died to make your Bicky Burger.
It's true that the original Belgian recipe calls for beer, chicken, and...horse meat. Happily this one subs in pork for the stallion, and cuts the chicken. Otherwise it retains all the traditions of a real Bicky: Big thick patty, crisped onions on top, sweet-as-honey pickles on the bottom, all of it topped with a layer of Bicky Sauce, a kind of sweet tomato/mustard puree with a solid pepper kick. Think of it as Belgian Sriracha.
Served with the requisite frites and a ramekin of the equally requisite mayo -- that's a Belgian thing -- it's surprisingly culinary: it's got sweet, savory, acid, and heat, with a deep umami richness from all that the beef and pork. Note: Since it's got pork, they won't serve it rare or even medium rare.
Oh, and it's huge, the size of a boxer's fist. As it should be for $18. Split it with someone. A stranger if necessary. Hey, it's a friendly crowd at Sovereign.
Tip #3: Go Full Belgian
At first glance, the menu seems exotic, what with its selection of rillettes, tartines, pates, and so forth. But read closely and you'll see many offerings familiar enough to appeal to all, but with a clearly Belgian twist.
We had croquettes de fromage -- a ball of gruyere fried and served in that Bicky sauce again. A delicious, drippy bar snack, bearing a distant family relationship to those fried mozzarella sticks with marinara at Applebee's. We also enjoyed Belgian meatballs, served with a wonderful mustard cream sauce.
But our favorite familiar-yet-distinctively mid-European choice was the Belgian style mussels.
The pot is presented closed; when you lift the lid it brims with chunks of gorgeous handmade bread, hiding the mussels underneath like a secret stash. Set the bread aside and dig into those big, sweet mussels.
The bivalves are grown exclusively for Sovereign by a fifth-generation Dutch family in Bar Harbor, Maine. They use an old-school technique of layering that allows all the mussels to grow to the same size.
And they're huge, the size of your thumb. I've never been served bigger ones.
Dip that bread into the fragrant broth laced with celery, shallots, and herbed mayonnaise.
Yes, mayo again. Hey, it's Belgian.
Final tip: Embrace the mayo.