But there is no cooler restaurant at Revel than Mussel Bar by Robert Wiedmaier.
The nationally-acclaimed Washington, D.C.-area chef calls Mussel Bar, which has another location in Bethesda, Md., a Belgian roadhouse that redefines the semi-casual culinary experience in Atlantic City.
And he’s right. There’s nothing else like it here. With a low-lit, masculine design, boasting a bar that stretches from one side of the room to the other featuring 23 taps, knotted oak wainscoting and floors, an open kitchen, a mussel-shaped ceiling with beer bottle chandeliers, a stage for live music and Wiedmaier’s retired chopper hanging overhead, Mussel Bar screams cool and offers an awesome place to dine with a date and listen to music or hang with the guys and watch a game on the multiple flat-screen TVs.
“When I was younger and I was in Brussels, we used to go to these Belgian roadhouses where we would drink Belgian beer, eat mussels and fries and listen to rock ‘n’ roll,” says the 51-year-old chef, who grew up in Germany and Belgium, where his father was born.
But no matter how cool Mussel Bar is and no matter how good the music is and how extensive the wine and beer lists are, the food is what will have everyone talking. And Wiedmaier and his staff, including Chef de Cuisine Dean Dupuis and General Manager Gonzague Muchery, won’t disappoint in the entire experience.
For starters, there’s the mussels. Prepared five different ways and available in half and full portions, the blue bay mussels are from Prince Edward Island, prepared on induction stoves in 3 to 4 minutes and offered in ways that will make your mouth salivate (see sidebar). Wiedmaier’s mussels are so good, Esquire magazine said he paved the way for mussels being served in fine-dining establishments across the country.
“It’s not called Mussel Bar for nothing,” Wiedmaier says with a laugh. “I think we buy the best mussels we can find, and people just love them.”
But if you don’t like mussels, there’s plenty of other options, including a raw bar with everything from whole lobsters from Brittany, to oysters, clams and shrimp. Must-try starters include any of the cheeses ($6) from around the United States and Belgium, or anything from the charcuterie ($8), particularly the pan-seared smoked pork belly ($14) with black pepper biscuit, hot pepper jelly and apple peanut salad. And the crab and shrimp salad Louie can be ordered as a starter ($17) or meal ($28) with smoked bacon, radish, apple, avocado, soft boiled egg and Old Bay Louie dressing.
Then there’s the wood-fired Belgian tarts and flatbreads ($14) that are worth the visit alone, particularly the charcuterie and cheese with soppressata, coppa tomato fondue, farm egg and Piave cheese; the lobster and asparagus ($20) with crème fraiche and a touch of lemon; and the crown jewel — smoked pork belly with caramelized onions, roasted peppers, Bechamel sauce and parmesan.
The main courses utilize the wood-fired oven, too, particularly the scallops from Barnegat ($34) with cauliflower puree, lemon, thyme butter; and the 52-ounce herb-crusted porterhouse ($110) with lemon and olive oil. Soon, whole fish will be roasted in the oven and added to the menu.
Other signature entrees include the Belgian-ale braised shortrib Carbonnade ($26) with broccoli rabe, Gruyere grits and crème fraiche; East Coast jumbo lump crabcake ($18/$36) with green cabbage slaw and mustard remoulade; and the grilled Fudge Farms pork chop ($38) with sweet corn, spaetzle, roasted Jersey long hots and crawfish brown butter.
And don’t dare leave Mussel Bar without trying the famous Belgian frites ($9) served with various dipping sauces, such as BBQ, roasted garlic and curry aioli.
It’s those little touches — sauces, sides, attention to detail — that make Mussel Bar special and rooted in French tradition.
“We think there’s a lot of creativity there, a lot of time spent on making sure things are perfect,” Wiedmaier says. “It’s about roasted bones, wine reductions, mirepoix. ... I wanted a bar theme with really good food, not some crappy frozen burgers, nachos and chicken wings, which I love when done well. But it’s upscale food. I think I got really lucky with a chef like Dean. It all just came together.”
Wiedmaier also is hoping people will be attracted to his brunch menu, offered Saturdays and Sundays. Interesting selections include New Jersey fried green tomato Caprese ($14) with sea salt, balsamic-dusted heirloom tomatoes, basil and homemade, fresh mozzarella made by Michael Hauke from Tony Boloney’s in Atlantic City; gruyere biscuits ($10) with prosciutto di parma, Benson’s country ham, peach preserves and butter; fried oyster, asparagus and bacon Benedict ($20); fried chicken and waffles ($21) with bourbon-barrel-aged BLIS maple syrup; shrimp, sweet corn and smoked cheddar grits casserole ($22); and the Mussel Bar breakfast ($16) with three eggs any style, rosemary and smoked cheddar home fries, spicy ketchup and choice of bacon, sausage or Taylor ham.
“It’s really going to take off once word gets out about it,” Wiedmaier says. “I told Dean to go wild, and he did. We took brunch to a different level in Atlantic City. People stay up late on Friday and Saturday nights and love coming in to have brunch late.”
More importantly, Wiedmaier hopes Mussel Bar develops into a locals hangout.
“We brought in locals who have worked in the restaurant industry like Lexi White to reach out to the community and embrace diners and other chefs and restaurant employees in the area, and make sure they know about us and make us the hangout,” Wiedmaier says. “We want them in here when it’s busy and in the slow season, too. A.C. is a big community, and we want them to be comfortable here.
“We are not a place where a star chef is coming from some other location to conquer Atlantic City. I want a menu and a place where you can come and you are not being held food hostage. You should be able to come here and grab a burger and beer or a 52-ounce porterhouse with mussels and be satisfied either way. That wide range is important.”
Wiedmaier believes the future of Mussel Bar — here and elsewhere — is promising.
“I want to open more of these in a more simplified atmosphere with a simplified menu because I believe the program of great mussels, great beer and rock ‘n’ roll resonates with a lot of people,” he says. “I think Revel and Mussel Bar will grow together as people begin to understand what this casino resort is all about. We’re a little different than everyone else. It’s a fresh philosophy that needs time to develop. I think we are bringing a whole different package to Atlantic City that has never been here before. We want to wow people with the whole experience, but especially the food.”
More about Robert Wiedmaier
Raised in Germany and Belgium by a Belgian father and an American mother, Robert Wiedmaier was classically trained in the French tradition, attended culinary school in the Netherlands and worked under leading chefs in Brussels before heading to the U.S., eventually working for Douglas McNeill at the Four Seasons in Washington, D.C. Mussel bar is Wiedmaier’s first restaurant outside of the Washington, D.C., metro area, where his flagship restaurant, Marcel’s, is routinely ranked as one of the best in the area. Marcel’s has been named to Zagat’s list of America’s Top Restaurants of 2012. Wiedmaier also owns Brasserie Beck in D.C.; and Brabo, Brabo Tasting Room and The Butcher’s Block, a Market by RW, in Alexandria, Va. He is great friends with Chef Michel Richard, who owns Central and O Bistro and Wine Bar inside Revel. When he’s not cooking, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s 2009 chef of the year is riding one of his five motorcycles, fishing or hunting duck, deer or elk.
Although Mussel Bar is becoming known for its mussels, fries, flatbreads, shortribs and more, it is a hot topic in craft beer circles for its amazing beer list, particularly its Belgian selections. There are 23 taps and more than 130 beers in bottles displayed in a refrigerated beer wall, where ladders are needed to reach the top shelves. The must-try beer is Antigoon, a Belgian pale ale that possesses a 6.7 percent alcohol content that is brewed for Wiedmaier in Belgium. Other current Belgian selections include Gulden Draak, Lost & Found Abbey Ale by California’s The Lost Abbey, Straffe Hendrik quad and tripel from Belgium, Samichlaus by Austria’s Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg and Gouden Carolus Easter ale from Belgium.
There are five different ways you can get your mussels at Mussel Bar. You won’t be disappointed in any: white wine ($16 half portion, $28 full portion with frites) with roasted garlic, parsley and cream; cave-aged gruyere ($16, $30) with fingerling potatoes, pancetta bacon, Gremolata, garlic and leek broth; wild mushrooms ($16, $30) with applewood-smoked bacon and truffle cream; and Mediterranean ($16, $30) with Merguez sausage, goat cheese, cilantro, Harissa aioli and smokey tomato broth. But THE one to try is the spicy Thai green curry ($16, $30), that is not too spicy, made with peanuts, cilantro and basil. Make sure you have plenty of bread available for dipping.