You’ve probably noticed that Atlanta is in the grips of an explosion of French restaurants. I’m not altogether sure why this is, but I’m guessing it has to do with the city’s ever-louder, chest-pounding prosperity. Americans, after all, can hardly bring themselves to say “French” without using the adjectives “fancy” and “expensive.” Dammit, we deserve our authentic Sara Lee French Cheesecake!
The newer spots are indeed expensive and for the most part excellent. I’m thinking about Tiny Lou’s, the Brasserie at Bazati, and AIX. The four-year-old Le Bilboquet began this opulent trend. It is ensconced in the Shops at Buckhead, perhaps the whitest commercial development in the city (although the last time I visited, there were actual people of color in staff positions). If you’re not up for these places, I urge you to visit two of my favorite French-inspired café-bistros: Bread & Butterfly and Petit Chou. Prices are low for the most part, the ambiance is charming, service is excellent, and the food is locally sourced and mainly good.
I say “mainly good” because Petit Chou (which means “little cabbage,” befitting its location in Cabbagetown) is maddeningly uneven. I wrote a few paragraphs about it a year ago and noted that two dishes I sampled were inexplicably devoid of moisture. Recently, I sought refuge from a torrential thunderstorm, to have lunch and a perfect cortado there. I ordered the roast beef sandwich, described this way: “toasted baguette, grilled roast beef and melted cheddar, arugula, caramelized shallots, and garlic aioli.” When the sandwich arrived, I was astounded by its size. I picked it up. It literally slid out of my hands, because the bottom half of the baguette was squishy-wet. It was delicious, but I had to alternate fingers and a fork to eat it. I’ll blame the rain.
The restaurant is also open for breakfast and I have two absurd favorites. Get the Belgian waffles or the crème Brulee French toast. Both involve a lot of whipped cream, fresh fruit, pearl sugar, nuts, and maple syrup. Petit Chou is now serving dinner and cocktails 6-10pm Thursdays and Fridays. Entrees include classics like beef bourguignon and chicken tarragon. I haven’t tried it yet.
Bread and Butterfly draws its name from an insect with bread-and-butter wings in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.” I wrote about it three years ago but have only been back a few times, because traffic and parking handily suppress my appetite. Mercifully, there is an overpriced parking garage next to the restaurant, but it can fill up at night.
Bread & Butterfly is owned by Billy Allin, one of our city’s preeminent chefs. He operated the incomparable Cakes & Ale for 10 years and also owns Proof Bakeshop, whose pastries are available at B&B. That means you can eat the city’s best almond croissant here at any time of the day. What has always distinguished Allin’s food is the clarity of flavors. Part of this is simply the quality of the ingredients. Thus, during a recent lunch, I ordered simply a plate of explosively flavorful yet mouth-melting prosciutto with cornichons. I admit there was a problem. The menu said it came with a baguette, so I was surprised when it was simply 6 tiny, toasted slices. It also promised butter that didn’t arrive. Do not fail to ask for it. You won’t believe the flavor.
Also at my table were a perfectly crafted Croque Monsieur and the famously lusciously rich burger. Other lunchtime dishes include shrimp remoulade, quiche, and a meatless French dip. At 2:30 p.m., the menu converts to snacks. Dinner service begins and 5:30 p.m. Last time I was there, I ordered roasted radicchio with rosemary ham and an egg. Please, just try it or the roasted chicken served with root vegetables, frisee, pickled raisins, cashew cream, and harissa. Bread & Butterfly serves breakfast 7:30-11:30 Monday through Friday. The go-to dish is the day’s omelette or the scrambled eggs with smoked trout, crème Fraiche, and brioche. Here’s the deal: Any meal here is going to be as good as you’ll find at the expensive new places and cost considerably less. You’re welcome.