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January 27, 2005
Villers-La-Faye, Burgundy - France

Home Sweet Home

The clutch on our car has self-destructed, rendering us temporarily carless.

We managed to get the girls to school this morning, but now we’re back up at our house in Villers with no car, and no food in the house for lunch. And it’s snowy and cold outside, and we’re hungry.

L'Auberge Bourguignonne
Chez Jacky - An authentic "Auberge Bourguignonne" One of a dying breed.

Right down the road from us at the entrance to the village there’s a traditional café, restaurant, and general store that has been there since time immemorial. It is known by all the villagers as “Chez Jacky” for the very good reason that a stout soul named Jacky happens to be the owner, manager, and chef.

As we slip our way down the icy road I wonder out loud why we’ve never tried this place before. Franck tells me he used to hang out there when he was younger, playing foosball with his friends, but somehow, in a blindness that people seem to have with things in their own backyard, the two us have never gotten around to eating there.

Nevertheless, the omens around the place – notably the cars and vans of all the local tradesmen that clog the road in front of the restaurant from noon onwards – are excellent.

It reminds me of the only cross-Canada car trip my parents ever attempted with their three daughters when I was thirteen. Our restaurant choices were dictated by my father’s theory that the best meal was to be had in the diner with the highest concentration of big-rigs parked out front. He was right, and the delicious truck stop grub we enjoyed as a result was the only bright spot in what otherwise has gone down in family lore as the summer trip from hell.

When we walk in to Jacky’s around ten after twelve there are already four regulars at the bar, who, judging from their dusty clothes and large boots, must be tradesmen. Very promising. Beside them is an elderly lady dressed in a chic winter coat and fur hat, in the process of ordering a glass of white wine.

We order an apéritif – beer for Franck, and a glass of red wine for me. I scan my new surroundings, and finally conclude that the décor is so utterly lacking in charm that it comes round full circle and becomes charming because of it. Everything looks old, but not oak and stone old, more like seventies, laminate wood panelling and melamine old. Then there is what looks like an old oxygen tank in the corner dressed up with sunglasses and a straw hat so that it looks like a metal midget. An in-joke with the regulars, perhaps? Intriguing.

The woman behind the bar is Nicole, Jacky’s daughter. She knows Franck, of course. He is a village boy, after all, even if he has been gone for well over a decade. She serves us our drinks and we get to talking of this and that, and notably of her and her husband’s frequent trips to Quebec.

I can’t stop looking around, fascinated. The sandwich menu hanging on the wall informs me that a ham sandwich costs 25 Francs, and that there is a butter supplement of 2 Francs. It's like we’ve landed at the final frontier for the French franc.

A place is set for us at one of the melamine tables, and it is the kind of place setting that one does not see everyday. It includes an entire baguette for the two of us, a plate of charcuterie bigger than my head, a full size rectangular platter of endives à la vinaigrette, and a full bottle of uncorked, unlabeled red wine.

One of Jacky's customers returning from her trip
to his general store.

Franck has forewarned me. There is no menu here – you simply eat whatever emerges from Jacky’s kitchen in the back.

We each break off a hunk of baguette and Franck pours us both a glass of wine and we dig in. Although everything is delicious, and we serve ourselves several times, we hardly make a dent in the endive platter and the plate of charcuterie.

And then the main course comes out of the kitchen. It is a tender steak, cooked to perfection, and a round metal platter, again the size of my head, full of scalloped potatoes. We pick up our steak knives and get to work.

We don’t talk much - just smile at each other occasionally in glee - and pour each other more wine when our glasses are empty.

When our plates are whisked away, they are replaced by a huge plastic platter of cheeses that is left at our table for at least ten minutes.

I try a nice Comté that goes down well with the wine. The cheese platter is no sooner ferried away to the other customers than it is replaced by a dessert platter piled up with two freshly baked apple tarts and several ramequins of chocolate mousse.

Nicole, whom I’m sure has by now noted the impressive quantity of food we’ve tucked away (a sure-fire way to impress a Burgundian), tells us to take whatever we want off the tray. I opt for a slice of the apple pie, and then we each have one teensy glass of wine more in order to finish the bottle.

As we savour our after-lunch espresso I glance at Franck. Surrounded by the clatter of forks and the rolled r’s and drawn out a’s of the local accent, a look of deep contentedness has settled over his features. Picking up the threads of an old life is never easy, but here, for a moment at least, he has returned home.

And the trip only cost us 24 Euros. Or 140 francs, bien sûr.

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© 2005, Story by Laura Bradbury  & Photos by Franck Germain - All Rights Reserved.

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