I went to high school in English Canada, where most of my French classes involved sitting through audio tapes where Pierre and Marie would discuss mundane tasks with great animation and perfect elocution.
“Vas-tu à la fête?”
“No, je vais étudier à la bibliothèque!”
(Although in Grade 12, there was bizarre scenario in our textbooks about a l’ovni sighting and the RCMP. Anyone else remember that? It was a long time ago.)
Walking into L’Epicerie, I felt like shouting with all the simple-sentence structure I could muster, “Je suis dans une belle épicerie!”
Because here was a true piece of France, a delicatessen sandwiched between Belgian patisserie Manuel Latruwe and chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut, in the shadow of Calgary’s constantly under-construction condo towers.
Moussu breaks into a big grin and a hearty “bonjour!” when we walk into the tidy store. He doesn’t stop thrusting samples at customers. Without a doubt, this proprietor is a charmer. The man winks and suddenly I have an urge to buy an extra crème brûlée.
L’épicerie means grocery, but this is an exceptional specialty store full of hidden delights, like macaroons, fancy vinegars, cans of salsify and tins of Puy lentils.
The deli counter is crammed with beautiful treats: smoked salmon, vacuum-packed duck confit, prosciutto, terrines, olives, pâté (pork and prunes, chicken liver with port and wine reduction, rabbit and pork).
L’Epicerie’s sandwiches remind Gwendolyn and me that it has been far too long since we’ve visited France. “Sometimes the simplest things are the best,” she declares as we tuck into our brunch.
The Périgord ($10), named after a former French province, is a drop-dead delicious baguette filled with duck rillettes, cornichons, and grainy mustard. Rillettes is meat that’s been salted, slowly cooked in fat, and then pounded into a spread.
The croque-monsieur ($8) — as the Pink Peppercorn has already eloquently described — is a ham and cheese elevated with bubbly gruyère, on top of toasty buttered bread, hugging sweet ham, and caressed by Mornay sauce.
A side salad, for an extra $2, is freshly made with butter lettuce, bits of tomatoes and radishes, olive oil (the good stuff) and a dash of sea salt.
This is mostly a take-out set-up. There are only about half a dozen seats: two at a tall bistro table, and four in front of the window.
There’s a bistro lunch menu — homemade soups, quiche, even boeuf bourguignon — and office catering is offered. (Imagine what kind of office hero you’d be, ordering duck rillettes baguettes instead of tasteless sandwich platters!)
Sipping our Americano coffees and surrounded by melodic French conversations, we are content.
As we were settling our bill at the till, Moussu came up and put two pieces of apple tart — still warm from the oven — on the counter: “A little dessert for you, madames.” Oh, swoon.
L’Epicerie, 1325-1st St. S.E., Calgary, (403) 514-0555. Open Tuesday to Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.