I’ve had French food on my mind of late. Anyone who knows me knows that I haven’t met a French pastry I didn’t like, and I’m a sucker for a crepe filled with gooey cheese and salty meat (or spread with Nutella and adorned with bananas). When my husband and I were in Paris, we ate on a shoestring and developed a lasting love of croque monsieur sandwiches (there was a little bistro down the street from our hotel that we called Le Snack, and we had many a croque there). With the recent boom in French restaurants in Austin, I’m excited to explore more deeply this simple, yet rich, classic cuisine.
- Texas French Bread — This little shop on 29th street is one of the front-runners of French cuisine in Austin. Established in 1981, Texas French Bread began out of the personal kitchen of Judy and Paul Willcott. Judy baked bread for service at restaurants like Jeffrey’s and Basil’s, and also embarked on a wholesale relationship with Whole Foods, who sold her baguettes in their first shop on South Lamar. Today, Texas French Bread offers fresh pastries for breakfast (but don’t overlook the Hobbit Bread!), as well as a menu of sandwiches, soups, and salads for lunch and dinner.
- Baguette et Chocolat — It’s a good thing that this French bakery is not convenient to my house at all, because if it were I’d probably have to invest in a full wardrobe of muumuus in tasteful patterns to accommodate the, uh, expansive effects of constant consumption of these amazing chocolate croissants.
- Elizabeth Street Cafe — While there is much to love on the lunch and dinner menus at this gorgeous French-Vietnamese cafe on South First, there is a special place in my heart for a breakfast of Vietnamese coffee and a ham-and-gruyere croissant.
- Hopfields — While many folks, especially hip graduate students and North University dwellers, like this gastropub for its deep beer selection and attendant nightlife perks, I really love it as a lunch place. The jamon beurre sandwich is a marvel of simple pleasures: thinly shaved ham and butter commingle on a fresh baguette, topped with tart little cornichons. Paired with a simply dressed green salad, this is a light, satisfying, economical lunch. I also recommend the mushroom leek tarte and the steak frites.
- Blue Dahlia — Part of me wants to keep this sweet little eastside joint under wraps so that we can continue to enjoy it in relative peace. Then again, I would be remiss in my Austin Foodie Mama duties if I didn’t tell you about the tartines (open-faced sandwiches on whole-wheat bread). Simple classics like ham and gruyere are available, as are a broad variety of vegetarian options, like brie with walnuts and jam or hummus with avocado, sprouts, and tomato. I love the community tables and the peaceful garden room in the back. Blue Dahlia is also a fantastic choice for brunch, with everything from Belgian waffles to crepes to frittatas.
- Cafe Crepe — When I’m downtown for long stretches of time, say, during SXSW, I make it a point to visit Cafe Crepe for lunch. While you can’t go wrong with The Classic (ham, swiss cheese, and mornay sauce), I can also recommend the Eiffel (chicken, provolone, asparagus, mornay sauce, basil, and sundered tomato pesto) and the Greek (spinach, feta, basil, and black and green olives). For dessert, don’t miss the Chloe (Nutella with strawberries or banana) and the Fromagerie (brie, honey, pear, and walnuts). Seating is tight and ticket times can lag, but sit in the tiny cafe chairs on the sidewalk, pretend you’re in Paris, and all will be well.
- Arro — Only open since late spring 2013, Arro has taken the downtown dining scene by storm. Chef Andrew Curren (of 24 Diner and Easy Tiger) and his wife, Chef Mary Catherine Curren, have beautifully realized their vision of an approachable French bistro that manages to be both casual and sophisticated. Start your meal with an Antonielli’s cheese plate, a side of bread and whipped butter with olives, then move on to the lobster bisque (or maybe the scallops?). Pace yourself, though, because you’ll want to save room for the pickled mushroom salad (no, really), the croque monsieur, or steak frites. Oh, and don’t forget to try Mary Catherine’s creme brûlée chocolate cake, lemon goat cheese tart, or dark chocolate pot de creme. And I haven’t even mentioned the expertly curated wine list, cocktail menu, and cordial cart! Reservations required, unless you want to breathe traffic fumes on the patio. Learn from my mistakes, people.
- Justine’s Brasserie — This is one of our favorite date-night restaurants. Another eastside gem, Justine’s is either a place to enjoy a quiet, intimate dinner for two (if you go early) or a raucous, elbow-to-elbow meal with 50 of your closest friends (if you arrive at 7 or later). Justine’s is where I fell in love with the French 75, had the best French onion soup I’ve ever had in my life, as well as phenomenal moules frites and creme brûlée.
- Lenoir — Another (relative) newcomer on the South First dining strip is Lenoir, run by the husband-and-wife team of Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher. They converted a tiny house into a tiny restaurant designed to look like a wealthy spinster aunt’s shabby-chic cottage. A communal dining table dominates the center of the dining room, with raised tables for 2-4 lining the curtained walls. Lenoir operates on a prix-fixe basis: 38 bucks gets you three courses chosen from four categories (field, sea, land, and dream). Because Duplechan and Maher source their food locally (and therefore seasonally), the menu changes often.
Now then, who’s hungry for bread and butter and cream and wine? I know I am!
Where is your favorite French food in Austin?