There are some things you need to know about me. The first is that I have a terrible sense of direction. I used to think that it was pretty good, but since moving to France, with all of its small windy streets that twist you back into the direction you came from, I’ve realized that my “good sense of direction” was only a product of living in the United States where the streets are wide and usually go in a straight line.
It was with some luck then, that I found myself on a Monday afternoon outside le Comptoir des Livres in Angers for lunch.
How could I have missed it? Besides being located on rue de David d’Angers – a street I’d never walked down before – it’s hard to miss. The facade being lime green. Inside, my eyes opened wide. Being from the States I have grand memories of tiny cafés with shelves lined with books. Cafés in Boston where they were as famous for their food as they were for their esoteric or classic selection of literature. Cafés in Phoenix where I could get a fabulous cup of coffee and a pastry and find something to read for an hour or two before heading off to a performance or rehearsal.
Nostalgic? Yes. I spent countless hours in cafés just like this where ambiance is almost more important than food and I was delighted to stumble upon such a place in France. These places are rare here and of course there are always differences. I was installed in a table in the back, a rather low table with chairs that didn’t quite fit as I couldn’t tuck my legs underneath it. This bothered me when I started eating as it’s rather difficult to get corn onto the fork and into your mouth with no spillage along the way. Being seating in the back corner however wasn’t much of a problem as it gave me an advantage of being away from the door and observe the activity of the restaurant. Plus I was surrounded by books; always a comforting feeling for me.
The next difference is that unlike the cafés in the States, this is a restaurant – meaning you’re served at your table instead of going up to the bar. It also serves wine and beer – something the laws in the States don’t often allow out of hand and most cafés don’t bother getting a license for.
There is no menu here. Just a piece of notebook paper tacked to the door with the day’s specialties written in marker. And the choices are small and simple. On the day I arrived there was a choice between croque-monsieur, Quiche with cauliflower and bechamel, carrot and goat cheese muffin, and a tuna sandwich. Each served with a salad of lettuce mix and corn in balsamic vinegar on the side.
It was a triangle themed day for me. I ordered the Quiche with cauliflower and bechamel. As Quiche go, it was standard. Creamy, thick, with plenty of cauliflower and the savory bechamel sauce baked in. Some people might have considered it a little under-salted, but for my tastes it was quite good. Nothing spectacular. Food that can be prepared in advance and served quickly but filling and satisfying all the same.
Dessert: flan vanille patissiere. The flan was dense, moist and well flavored with vanilla. But I was disappointed in the crust which felt rubbery and aging, as if it had sat for far too long. I’m picky about my crusts and if it’s difficult to cut into, I get a little annoyed. Eventually I abandoned my spoon altogether and just ate it by hand. Table manners be damned.
Going back to differences – the biggest is of course – the coffee. Someone give me the big cups of fresh drip brew, properly roasted and ground. How I miss it. And it was missing here, but I can’t fault Le Comptoir des Livres for that. France just hasn’t embraced the American sized coffees – even Starbucks has admitted defeat and started closing locations outside of Paris.
Service was rapid, nothing special, but tasty enough, satisfying and filling. But for me the pleasure of Le Comptoir des Livres was not in its food, though enough for a simple lunch out, but in its ambiance. Quiet past-favorites from the American and British decades of old played in the background. The bright colors gave a lively feeling and the server, though all alone was pretty pleasant and attentive. And of course, there were the books. Food and words. Nothing gets much better in my world.
This is a place I will return to – if I can find it again – to sit and relax and when I get a little homesick for those old cafés. Maybe I can convince them to serve a big cup of café américain.Le Comptoir des Livres 15 Rue Saint-Maurille 49100 Angers
02 41 48 72 35