The famous French Cuisine has a long reach, and inspires cooks all over the world. With its rich sauces, sumptuous ingredients, and classic preparations, it has prompted many a distant chef to mash up, mix up, juggle and prod it into something that is a little French and a little new.
Case in point: I discovered an interesting French restaurant this very week, in the unlikeliest of spots. I'm visiting the states for a reunion with my three college roommates, one of whom lives in Franklin, North Carolina, where we gathered.
Now unless you've dropped off the Appalachian trail to pick up supplies or you're a snowbird from Florida looking for a quiet retreat, you may have missed the small but charming mountain town of Franklin, with its one block long main street of 19th century brick buildings. We decided to dine at Franklin's finest. This is a unique restaurant just outside of town called Caffé REL, which is attached to the back of the Hot Spot Gas Station. We had to arrive at the decidedly un-French hour of 5:00, because by 5:20 the crowd is always lined up outside the door and the wait is long.
Despite the Italian spelling of the name, you will know it's a French restaurant by the Eiffel Tower on the cover of the menu, and les fleurs de lys which were scattered about everywhere. The decor is country kitsch with French flair. On the walls surrounding the tables were dark Victorian furniture pieces displaying homey do-das, and shelves packed with antique cameras, country bric-a-brac, and photos from Paris.The walls prominently featured someone's rather extensive framed butterfly collection plus lots of French posters. On the wall of the open kitchen there was a large flag of yellow, red, and black stripes, which turned out to be the flag of Belgium. When asked about it, the manager said cheerfully, "we just liked the colors".
Adding to the festive international air, our charming waitress was Asian American. The food was French-ish, tossed around with a little Italian spice and some distinctly regional flavors. Photo left: Fuel up your car and your soul at Franklin’s hot spot for dining.
They kind of lost the plot when it came to desserts, which suited us just fine. No petite and delicate French pastries here: on the counter there was an assortment of super-sized, over-the-top southern cakes and pies. There was a mile-high chocolate cake, a caramel cake, a sweet potato cheesecake with a nut crust, an old-fashioned chocolate pecan pie. And I'd walk a country mile, or even a French kilometer, to eat there again.
Caffé REL, 459 E. Main St., Franklin NC, 828-369-9446
IF YOU GO to Franklin, there is a sophisticated and delicious new farm-to-table restaurant on main street called The Bowery, which is also not to be missed.
Photo left, truly the "Hot Spot" in Franklin for French cuisine. Above, by 5:15, the place was packed and the wait was on.
Above, Eclectic decor at Caffé REL; below, the French theme was abandoned for a groaning board of southern cakes and pies.
Recipe: French Blue Batard 'Caffé REL'
A batard is basically a sandwich-sized baguette, shorter than a regular baguette.