November 2017: My mother-in-law is a sweet and beautiful soul. She is the living personification of lovely things: chamomile tea from fine china; eyelet, lace, and linen; porcelain dolls, grand hats in hat boxes, and climbing ivy upon a white lattice; the pulpy smell of vintage books and the sun’s bright, gossamer rays through a bay window seat. Throughout the years, she has taken me to dozens of charming, lovely little restaurants, cafes, and shops that perfectly captured her aesthetic.
My very first thought upon entering Le Louvre, a sweet little French cafe near 83rd and Memorial, was how it was made for her. A simple, bright dining room opens to a walk-up counter and a display case filled with earthly delights. An array of pǎtisserie items straight out of a Wonderland tea party lined the shelves, a vivid showing of berries, nuts, chocolates, creams, crepes, pains, and glorious disallowed calories taken straight from the set of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. The whole place has a bright, minimalist shabby chic feel. Like many European cafes, Le Louvre opens for breakfast and lunch, closing at 6 p.m.
As I approached the counter, visually absorbing the rainbow of pastries, the smiling man behind the counter named Clement offered up a plate filled with bite-sized pieces of almond croissant.
Ordering was an impossible choice. Some of the biggest contenders were the pecan-tarte aux pommes (pecan tart with apples) and the forêt noire (Black Forest gateau consisting of several layers of genoise, chocolate pastry cream, and cherries). We ordered after much debate, and Clement assured me the order would be ready in about 6 minutes, a precision I respect as a former food service worker.
His timing was solid. I could see his parents working together in the kitchen to prepare our food, a lovely couple who seemed to deeply enjoy their work. After a few minutes, he brought over several plates to a chorus of pleased “oohs” and “ahs.”
We ordered one savory crepe and two sweet along with an éclair. The presentation was simple, but the food was some of the most beautifully crafted I’ve ever seen. The fraises éclair was picture perfect, almost breathtaking, a beautiful éclair with strawberry genoise and pastry cream. For crêpes sucrées (sweet crêpes), we tried la caramel and la fraise (strawberries, almonds, and chantilly) topped with salted caramel (Nutella is also an option).
The savory crêpe, le poulet picé, was filled with tender spicy chicken, onions, and bell peppers. I topped it off with une boisson chaude (hot beverage), un café viennois (a double shot of espresso topped with chantilly).
The pricing was very reasonable. Our entire order came out to right around $30. We devoured everything, savoring the remarkable contradiction of well-prepared French cuisine, the richness of chantilly and cream against the lightness of ripe, juicy strawberries, the savory texture of the poulet épicé inside the delicate crêpe. The café viennois was perfection, the ideal complement to the sweeter items.
Before we left, Clement’s parents came out to say hello and see how we liked everything. This is a cafe that exudes warmth, and that comes from the love they bring to what they do.
They are open for breakfast, so be a darling and take your mother-in-law for un café and a tasty éclair. That’s what I’ll be doing.
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