Cadieux Cafe (Detroit, MI)

It’s someone fitting that a few days after a write a tribute to Anthony Bourdain, I find myself writing up a spot that I first learned about watching his second show, No Reservations. Bourdain was actually quite a fan of Detroit, loving the people and the food. One of his quotes was “I’d love to be able to say that I came from Detroit. That would be like the coolest thing I could ever say,” and you could tell by watching his shows that he enjoyed his visits. And one of the places he visited and enjoyed was a quirky spot on the east side of town: Cadieux Cafe.

The eastern part of Detroit over by Grosse Pointe used to be a bit of a Belgian Enclave, and Cadieux Cafe is a remnant of that. Up front, it’s a slightly divey bar, with a small stage, neon lights, and a worn bar of the type where they put down a bunch of coins and polyurethaned over them. Cadieux Cafe is definitely a bar first, with an impressive selection of beers: over 70 different beers, focusing primarily on Belgian beers, making it one of the better Belgian beer bars I’ve been to in the US. They’ve also got some Belgian bar fare: lots of frites, mussels, roast beef, stews, and rabbit to be had on the menu. But then, behind the bar, lays another wing of the building featuring a unique, obscure Flanders pastime: feather bowling!

What’s feather bowling? I’d call it a variation of bowling that’s actually a bit like Bocce meets Curling: a feather is placed at the end of the lane, and large wooden balls (actually shaped like wheels of cheese) are hurled down the lane, attempting to end nearest the feathers while knocking away your opponents balls. But it’s a bit quirky: the approximate five pound balls are also a bit off-balance so they wobble, and the lanes themselves are ancient, packed dirt in a slight trough. I’m not sure if anyone alive knows the true provenance of the feather bowling lanes; they were already there when the owners of Cadieux bought the place in 1962; before that it had been a general store, and a speakeasy before that, but the dirt here is old and of an unusual clay-like consistency. It’s also almost unknown back in Belgium these days; what little feather bowling still occurs back in Continental Europe is a somewhat fancier rendition played on a turf-like carpet. In any case, Cadieux’s been playing feather bowling like this since long before the current owners, and they aren’t changing any time soon: there are only two lanes, and they are in high demand (and command $25/hour rental outside of league night).

We’ve talked about the beer and the bowling, but the food is worth noting as well. Cadieux isn’t fancy food, but when we sat down and were told that it was all-you-can-eat mussels night at Cadieux, well, that made that decision easy. We found ourselves soon faced with several rounds of frites (served with both mustard and mayo), bread, and three different varieties of mussels (classic garlic and butter, Rockefeller style smothered with spinach, bacon, onions, and Holland cheese, and Creole style in a spicy broth with a little bit of chorizo). The frites were classic, thin Belgian style, and crisped up very nicely. A bit bland in themselves, they are the perfect vehicle for dipping in the extra bits of sauce the mussels are swimming in. The mussels? Not the finest I’ve gotten, but nicely executed, and I did particularly enjoy the creole variety: a nice pepper and garlicky tang with each mussel, and at $18.95, not a bad price.

We really enjoyed Cadieux. The Belgian beer selection was phenomenal, the staff friendly, and the mussels reasonable and plentiful. It’s also quite fun to kick back, relax, and watch the feather bowling, even if you can’t get a lane yourself.

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