Cafe Francais: an airplane to Paris in a Regina strip mall
by Aidan Morgan
425 Victoria Avenue E
Have I told you about the time I went to France and had one of the most confusing meals of my life? In the city of Mulhouse I walked into a business that looked very much like a restaurant from the street, but which turned out to be a few flimsy tables covered in checked cloth at which a few North African men sat and drank cups of tea. After my halting attempts at explaining my needs (“I have hunger!” I said, my French deserting me completely), the man behind the bar nodded and gestured for me to follow him outside. This was new.
He exited the tea house, walked down a narrow side street and turned into an alley, all the while motioning for me to follow with subtle, almost imperceptible movements of his fingers. I entered a building through a side door and down a set of stairs into a basement, where a group of men ate French fries and watched the news. There seemed to be nothing to eat except sandwiches and fries, so that’s what I had. They were the greasiest, soggiest, least edible fries of my life. And it probably wasn’t the worst meal I had during my time there.
I tell you this because it’s now easier to get good French food in Regina than it is in parts of France. And to advise you against following tea house owners into basements.
Cafe Francais is Regina’s second French bakery and coffee shop, after the highly enjoyable Le Macaron (if there are others, forgive my ignorance and please address your angry letters to Steve Whitworth). Run by DeepRaj Kumar and featuring the considerable culinary talents of Young Chang, the place aims to give Reginans the experience of a classic French patisserie and boulangerie, but with an emphasis on local ingredients.
The first thing I ordered was the Croque Monsieur ($9.98), a fluffy French take on the good old ‘Murican ham and cheese. Cafe Francais’ version is served on house-made brioche with emmental and mozzarella cheeses and a thin slice of ham, the whole thing covered in a simple bechamel sauce. It was satisfying and unbelievably rich — its gravitational mass probably pulled calories from the surrounding tables. It also came with a pointy little salad of mixed greens and house dressing. As much as I enjoyed the dish, I don’t think I could have it on a regular basis. The croque monsieur is a special occasion sandwich.
Croque, by the way, is derived from the French croquer, for crunch, so I’ve decided that “Mister Crunchy” is an acceptable translation.
Even though the croque is the restaurant’s signature dish, the star in their sandwich firmament for me is the demi-baguette ($8.48), a compact sandwich with thinly sliced boiled eggs, tomato, mozzarella and greens, with a balsamic reduction drizzled around the plate. Hot damn, people. This is just a fantastic sandwich, fresh and balanced and delicious in a sneaky way. The first bite is acceptable, the second enjoyable, and the rest is straight-up joy. I could have demi-baguettes every day and probably never get tired of them.
The restaurant offers a variety of quiches, including a quiche of the day ($7.88), and they are well worth your time. If I had to guess, I’d say the secret ingredient in Cafe Francais’ quiches is a massive amount of butter, or possibly some kind of undiscovered subatomic deliciousness particle. There’s also a soup ($4/$7) and a salad ($4.58) of the day, including French onion soup on Sundays. One of the Knights of Appetite kept requesting French onion soup, so they’ve incorporated it into their menu. Of all the things I like about Cafe Francais, their willingness to take customers’ wishes into account may be my favourite.
The main culinary attraction, though, is the dessert counter. Almond- or pistachio-crusted tuile wafers to go with your espresso, miniature pumpkin cheesecakes, chocolate fudge squares, panna cotta, tea biscuits — an ever-changing sugary array of sweets and cakes and petit fours. I could go on, but it’s hard to describe just how spectacular their desserts are. Just go and see for yourself.
I usually rely on fellow Knights of Appetite to find fault in our dining experiences (generally speaking, you have to serve me a plate of kibble while singing dubstep at me to ruin my restaurant cheeriness), but in this case they had almost nothing negative to say, except for the plain white plastic venetian blinds over the windows, which cheapen the atmosphere a little bit (and probably don’t taste good).
The cafe also has to work hard to overcome its uninspiring strip mall location, but since Regina is 90 per cent strip mall by volume (a hypothesis that could be verified by a city-sized centrifuge)(does anyone have a giant centrifuge handy? Because manthatsabigcentrifuge.wordpress.com is out of stock), it probably doesn’t pose a challenge to their business model.
Any other negative points? No floor lighting to illuminate exit routes on in case of emergencies. No bilingual magazines or Sky Mall catalogues. No in-flight movies. Yes, I know Cafe Francais isn’t an airplane but with every bite of brioche I FELT AS IF I WERE BEING TRANSPORTED TO PARIS.
And that, my friends, is how you wield the caps lock key.
The Round Table
WHAT IS IT? Cafe Francais.
WHAT’S IT FOR? Sandwiches, coffee, flour and sugar.
WHEN IS IT OPEN? Monday to Saturday, 9:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.; Sunday 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW? Cafe Francais offers gluten-free desserts, but customers are cautioned that their kitchen isn’t a gluten-free facility.