Tartes, pots-au-feu and more French-inspired dishes make for a unique and comforting dinner

I’ve always assumed pizza had just one homeland: Italy. I had no idea the French were hiding another version up their culinary sleeves.

That new wonder is now available at Flambée Café in the “tarte flambée.” The small bistro-style restaurant in Willow Grove makes its tartes in a prominent brick oven at the back of the dining room—serving up something that’s not technically pizza, but close.

Described as northern France’s answer to southern Italy’s pies, the tarte flambée starts with a super-thin, crisp crust that’s topped with a variety of options and often finished with crème fraîche.

The Caesar Au Feu salad offers up charred romaine, fire-roasted tomatoes, shaved Parmesan and a light Caesar dressing.

We chose divergent flavors for our tartes with the Champignon and Boudin versions. The Champignon came with mushrooms, bacon lardon, vidalia onions, goat cheese and crème fraîche. The sour bite of the crème fraîche perfectly balanced the salty bacon. The onions were essentially raw and I found them too pungent, so I scraped them off. I wished for more mushrooms but still found this tarte very pleasing.

The Boudin had house-made boudin, smoked mozzarella, Tabasco, bacon lardon, vidalia onion and crème fraîche. I found the Tabasco dominated the dish and, as a result, I never could detect the smoked mozzarella or the true flavor of the boudin.

Between the tartes and the entrees, we enjoyed a Caesar Au Feu of charred romaine, tomatoes, Parmesan and Caesar dressing. The fire-roasted tomatoes came as a sweet surprise that complemented the charred lettuce. There was a ton of shaved Parmesan, so much that we removed half. Appropriately dressed with a delicate drizzle that was not too garlicky, this was a light intermezzo.

Tartes aren’t the only game here: The pots-au-feu selections are worthy choices as well. Meatball Bourguignon drew us in with its meat in a bourguignon sauce. Large chunks of carrots punctuated the dish. The meatballs cooked down with the wine translated to a complementary sweetness on the palate.

For the Meatball Bourguignon, the kitchen cooks down its plump meatballs and large chunks of carrots in a deep wine sauce that would get Julia Child’s stamp of approval.

The Spaetzel Avec is an assembly of tiny Alsatian dumplings with butter and herbs, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts and blackened shrimp. The herbs coating the delicate, tender spaetzel really shone throughout the dish. A thick topping of Swiss cheese somewhat detracted from the dish’s other flavors but still added pleasant nuttiness. Briny artichokes and slightly spicy shrimp helped tie all the components together into a cohesive entree.

My friend ordered the Ratatouille Gratin with roasted vegetables, Swiss cheese and shrimp. I was expecting a nice roasted vegetable dish as a counterpoint to the starch and meat. But the vegetables were undercooked, and the entire dish was inundated with black pepper.

Each dish is accompanied by soft, moist bread with a welcomed smear of rich herb butter. Luckily for the carboholics amongst us, there were only a few pieces, alleviating the danger of overfilling on bread.

Apple tarts are a personal favorite, so the Tarte Aux Pommes Flambée was a no brainer for dessert. Served on the restaurant’s signature crust, the char interfered with the overall sweeter flavor. The whipped cream and stewed apples were lovely, though, with a sweet and crunchy streusel throughout.

Oddly, the Gâteau Au Chocolat had an abundance of coconut flavor that masked the chocolate we craved. One bite was more than enough for us all.

Partway through the meal, my partner asserted that the menu was quite creative. We all were delighted by the interesting choices and had an enjoyable experience on the restaurant’s comfortable side patio.

Having such a clever and refreshingly different dining option is a real boon for Baton Rouge.

The Spaetzel Avec is a pot-au-feu (a fire-cooked casserole) with spicy shrimp, Alsatian dumplings, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts and lots of cheese.

The basics: The minds behind Bistro Byronz opened this small restaurant in June across the street from its Willow Grove outpost. Northern France-inspired dishes make use of a brick oven for crispy, savory flatbread-like tartes and country-style one-pot dishes.

What’s a must: Any of the tartes flambées to experience that signature dish with toppings like bacon lardon and crème fraîche; the Caesar Au Feu salad, with its charred romaine and fire-roasted tomatoes; and the casserole-like Spaetzel Avec, with spicy shrimp, Alsatian dumplings (sort of like pasta), veggies and lots of cheese.

The brick oven at the back of Flambée Café is responsible for the crispy, charred crust on the tartes flambées.

8210 Village Plaza Court

11 a.m.-9 p.m., Monday-Saturday;
4-9 p.m. Sunday

Our food critic’s name may be false, but the credentials are not. This gastronome has studied the history, cultivation, preparation, science and technology of food for more than 30 years.

This article was originally published in the November 2017 issue of 225 magazine.