Few things make me happier than seeing the word choucroute on a menu in France. Okay, we all know that it should say “choucroute garnie,” because by itself, choucroute is nothing more than sauerkraut (English: sauerkraut) (German: sauerkraut) (Dutch: kabbigemitderstuffenpfeffer). Just by adding the word garnie, you’ve now created a masterpiece that says: loaded with pork! It’s a classic Alsatian dish.
Choucroute garnie was my favourite when I ate at Le Select Bistro in Toronto. It was never more massive than the serving I managed to tame at Brasserie Lipp in Paris a few years ago.
Then, this past Sunday, when we were visiting the weekly market in Cazals (see “A quiet Sunday in autumn”), you can imagine my delight when my wife reported that, in the window of Auberge de la Place, choucroute was posted as the star of the menu du jour for mardi (Tuesday). I immediately made a reservation. (As you may imagine, the proprietor is now greeting me by name.)
Now today was quite wonderful (in case you were wondering) not just because of the choucroute garnie looming on the horizon. First we had a successful shopping trip to Gourdon, and although the weather was cool it was brightening with each passing moment. My wife and I both commented on how lovely the countryside looked as we drove along, scanning the fields for hawks (they’re everywhere) and deer (nowhere in sight; evidently it’s a major witness protection program). And then we reached Cazals, and bought a 2010 edition of Michelin’s Guide rouge (the hotel-and-restaurant one) before settling into Auberge de la Place. Here’s where we were:
Auberge de la Place is a restaurant for regulars. Nothing fancy, but there’s always good food at hand, and an interesting mix of people — well-dressed old folks, cool young folk, and a solid handful of workers (showing off, at times, an unfortunate display of what can only be called “plumber’s butt”). We had a good table at the centre of things, and so it began: kirs for both of us; then salad and roast lamb for my wife; while I had the vegetable soup, an entrée of hard-cooked egg with salad, and then the choucroute. And here it is, next to my new copy of the Michelin guide:
How was it? Very good. Two kinds of pork sausage, plus a heavily smoked ham, with the sauerkraut and some boiled potatoes. Of course I devoured all the meat, although not quite all the sauerkraut. Certainly it was not as elegant as the dish at Le Select in Toronto, and certainly not as gargantuan as the serving at Brasserie Lipp in Paris. But very good (and very reasonable, as part of the whole menu du jour).
And then to finish — a nice plate of cheese (with the strange-but-delicious accompaniment of vin de noix), followed by apple tart for dessert. And then it was time to hit the road.
For a bit of the flavour of the place, here is a view of the street leading out of the village:
As we drove home, the weather seemed perfect, and the scenery grand. Here is a view looking down to the village of Campagnac:
And to finish off our ride home, just before Daglan we came upon a young guy trekking with two donkeys (a pretty common sight in the summery tourist season, but rare in November). Here’s how the donkeys looked (nice, yes?):