May 1, 2014 at 1:00 am

Molly Abraham

Distinctive menu and atmosphere make Monk Beer Abbey heavenly

The menu includes combos of mussels in special sauces. (John M. Galloway / Special to The Detroit News)

Monk Beer Abbey in Royal Oak might appear to be an afterthought. It isnít.

Tucked on the side street behind Bastone, its bigger Main Street sibling, it seats just 40 at tables and booths in a wood-lavished room lit by ecclesiastically inspired lanterns invoking the beer-brewing monks of a couple of centuries ago. Itís the reworking of Cafť Habana, and it celebrated its first anniversary in April.

Monk is the newest element at Bastone, which is marking its 10th anniversary of serving Belgian fare in a beer hall sort of setting.

Despite its name, Monk is anything but a beer hall in terms of atmosphere. Itís dark, cozy and well worth seeking out for its distinctive menu that zeroes on just a few dishes, and they are dishes it does very well. They include steamed mussels, burgers made with Belgian Blue beef, a low-fat variety comparable to Piedmontese, and sandwiches on waffles. While there are a few more options, such as a beer-braised half chicken and a sausage and sauerkraut casserole, as well as some appealing sides, itís the mussels, burgers and waffle sandwiches filled with pork belly, pulled chicken or ahi tuna that can be regarded as specialties of the house.

Heading the list is Prince Edward Island black mussels, offered in a variety of five savory sauces, ranging from spiced tomato broth with tasso ham, to wild mushroom, garlic and cream, and garlic butter with pancetta.

Canít decide? A welcome option is to order a sample of three, which come in little cast iron pots with slices of grilled baguette to soak up the sauce. While the tender little mussels themselves are good, they are mostly the conduit for the savory sauces that really make the dish stand out. Also a must are the hand-cut frites, either plain or duck fat fried, served in waxed paper lined cones. They come with a choice of two sauces from a list of five, mostly mayonnaise-based, that includes curried ketchup and roasted red pepper mayonnaise. Big white hotel-style napkins are supplied and they are much needed.

In a town that loves its happy hours, Monkís version really stands out. It doesnít just offer a few nibbles, it serves the entire menu at 50 percent off from 4-7 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, with 25 percent off Belgian beers in bottles.

And donít let that key word beer scare you away. While the list is impressive, with not only Belgians but in-house brews and other locals as well, itís not the only beverage. Thereís a full bar, thanks to big brother Bastone and big sister Vinotecca Winebar.

There have been a lot of changes in the 10 years the Bastone complex has occupied its corner. For those keeping score, managing partner David Ritchie clears up the confusion with this run-down: Bastone, Cafť Habana and Cinq started brewing in 2004, and Vinotecca opened the following year. Cinq became Commune in 2008. Cafť Habana closed to make way for Monk a year ago, and Commune became Craft the same year. Got all that?

Monk Beer Abbey

109 E. Fifth, Royal Oak

Call: (248) 544-6250


Rating: ★★★ 3 stars (out of 4)

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Sun., 4-midnight Mon.-Wed., 4-midnight Thurs.-Sat. (bar later)

Prices: Burgers and sandwiches $9-$15, mussels $9-$12, entrees $10-$13, sides $5-$13

Credit cards: All major

Liquor: Full bar, with an emphasis on Belgian and Belgian-style beers

Noise level: Moderate

Parking: Street or nearby lots

Wheelchair access: No barriers
(313) 222-1475

Chef Robert Young with a burger of chargrilled elk, maytag bleu cheese and ... (John M. Galloway / Special to The Detroit News)
Patrons relax at the bar at Monk Beer Abbey, which replaced Cafť Habana. (John M. Galloway / Special to The Detroit News)
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