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  11 December 2017  |  Vol: 4 facebooktwitterrss  
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Beverly Ridge: From the Loire with Love

Storefront at Cafe Francaise Des Arts.

The Gallatin Valley bubble has seen plenty of growth since I was in pigtails, so I’m guessing that many of you can remember being the new kid in town.

I sure do.

Though I am a Bozeman native, born at the old Deaconess (the one on West Lamme Street), Dad took a job in an eastern Wisconsin mill when I was eleven. Even though our internment was only three years, it felt to me like forever. According to my newfound peers, I was too tall (“beanpole” was one of the nicer names), wore “Coke-bottle” glasses, and was informed by one English teacher in front of a classroom of sixth graders that I didn’t say my vowels normally. For that first year—the longest of my life—the school hallways were a battleground of cruel cliques and insults.

If any of this triggers empathetic nods, then consider the intimidating wilderness faced by the owner of Café Français Des Arts. Her name is Francoise Manigault, and she is quite French. Five years ago, she moved her family here from the Loire Valley, an area southwest of Paris, to Bozeman without so much as a preliminary visit. Imagine the boldness. Francoise’s pioneer courage elicits memories of the trappers (many of them French) who were the first white men in Montana.

“I love it,” Francoise says with an endearing lilt, “The people here are so friendly, the open spaces, no pollution.” Her eyes warm every time she speaks.

Photo of Cafe Francaise Des Arts in Bozeman.Four months ago, Francoise started the café with the help of her family, including her three sons (each with plenty of heartache potential, I must note; they speak with a knee-weakening mixture of Gaulish accent and okey-dokey’s). The café seems plucked straight from Loir-et-Cher, with a fresh daily selection of homemade pastries, croissants, croques, and baguettes, not to mention exquisite coffee (fresh from Yellowstone Coffee Company, right here in Bozeman). The walls are even decorated by Francoise’s own watercolors.

All this, amidst a dedicated eggs-and-bacon town.

To date, Bozeman’s reception of the French enterprise has been marked by reluctance and timidity. It’s like we’re all waiting for a town tastemaker to nod and deem the establishment “okay,” which is ironic for a community where so many proudly point to their progressive merit badge. But if you listen to the hush-hush circling the new cafe, the gossip is filled with little cuts like: “it’s too expensive,” the Manigaults “are a bit cold,” and “the place is always so empty.”

Let me tell you something, Bozeman, Café Française is kilometers beyond “okay.” Madame Manigault leads the baking effort and studied under some renowned French pastry chefs. My first embrace of her Quiche Alsacienne (ham and cheese with onions and a light crème) unveiled a buttery and perfectly bronzed crust. My dining partner shared some of his crepe with me, but only after an unspeakable amount of pleading and theatrics. Filled with deliciously steamy Bechamel (the queen of French white sauces), the crepe was like a wide and delicate pancake of indulgent joy.

It’s a good thing I don’t know any profane words in their language, because it was that French-ing good. Francoise’s a pro.

Quiche next to crepe at Cafe Francaise Des Arts.

We relished the international experience so much, we splurged with a second round of the house Americano (good enough that I passed on the almost obligatory cream and sugar accessorizing). We even went back for dessert. Following a recommendation from Francoise’s eldest son (were he a few years older, I might follow that man anywhere), we went with the flaky yumminess of the chocolate croissant. The Belgian chocolate they use is so savagely scrumptuous, I wanted to sprint barefoot into the woods and enjoy it alone.

The total, you ask? $24 for the two of us. Not cheap, but for a two-course breakfast, it’s no more than we’d shell out at Bozeman’s established greasy spoons.

The Café Français has a few other cards left to play—lunch, for one, with an array of salads, les pains, more crepes, and baguette sandwiches. To top off your “Sabrina” moment (Ms. Hepburn’s version, of Chalkboard at Cafe Francaise Des Arts.course), their location just south of Tracy and Main basks in the morning sun, across the street from Bozeman’s first post office building, now wonderfully restored (and home to the Human Resource Development Council). A few intrepid Bozemanites have discovered the sidewalk tables as a sunny spot for a morning coffee. In truth, the whole venue should be considered as a choice locale for a caffeinated chat. (I’ve already enlisted my fellow Francophile gals to meet there and gush over Andrew’s accent the desserts.) And should the summer heat ever decide to show up, the half dozen French sodas on the menu sound magnifique.

The café has plenty of seating and also offers free wifi, which is pretty handy for a breakfast and lunch spot. In faithfully European fashion, the family keeps the doors closed on Sundays. They’re open from 6am to 6pm, Monday through Saturday, leaving plenty of time to grab a long baguette and bike down the street in true French style.

You won’t find ketchup on the table and the diesel-burning class might suffer flashbacks from the “Freedom Fries” campaign, but don’t wait for approval to visit the Café Français des Arts. Francoise deserves a truly warm welcome for boldly bringing a little refinement and oodles of taste to our beloved valley. At a minimum, anyone who’s ever experienced the frigid lonesomeness unique to the newcomer should stop by and say bonjour. You might just find a new morning hangout.

I sure did. -BM

Contributor photo of Beverly Ridge, Bozeman's food critic.

Beverly Ridge is the area's first regularly featured restaurant reviewer.  A native of the valley and a veteran of the food service industry, she's a virtuoso on all things epicurean.  She's also made it a personal mission to protect Montana diners from the fleecing imposters, the lazy sourpusses, and the just plain rotten.

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