It’s a well-established fact that you’re never going to go hungry – or thirsty – in Alsace. At one end of the scale there are good-to-great places (L’Auberge de l’Ill inter alia); at the other there are decent enough Winstubs (wine bars with a über-trad dishes of the choucroute, tarte a l’oignon school). But then in the squeezed middle, that bit where I’m always hoping to find interesting, fun food with a smidge of creativity, at sensible-not-silly prices and quirky wines by the glass, there’s a socking great hole.
There’s a scant handful of such places on my Eating Out page – d’Brendelstub in Riquewihr, Au Potin in Barr, Flamme & Co. in Mulhouse, Strasbourg and Kaysersberg all come to mind. Now, hooray, another one’s popped up, much closer to (my) home: Le Bistrot la Cave on the main street of Saint-Louis (“meet me in Saint-Louis…”) For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure, Saint-Louis is your typical, nondescript, mildly grungy little border town, in this case contiguous with Basel/Switzerland. To be fair, it’s cleaned up its act a lot of late: some dinky little trees have popped up all along said main street, the Saturday market goes from strength to strength and the shops (a handful of clothes boutiques, a nice deli, a wicked choccy and pastry shop and an excellent wine merchant, see below) are looking more and more like they actually believe in themselves. Best news of all for Basel-dwellers, the blue, border-hopping Regio bus that starts out life at Schifflande will deposit you just about outside the bistrot’s door.
Inside it’s light, bright and airy – think pale wood, white gloss paint, loads of mirrors reflecting sparkly lights inside wooden wine boxes suspended crazily from the ceiling. There’s a succinct menu featuring (depending on the season) home-conserved foie gras with a chaud-froid based on adolescent P[edro] X[imenez], ‘tagliatelles’ (i.e. slender strips) of fresh veggies with Bibbeleskäs/fromage blanc and hazelnut vinaigrette, an Italianate trio of gnocchi, risotto and bruschetta for starters. Mains range from sundry fishy offerings to steak, duck and always at least one spirited stand-alone veg. dish – rare in these parts to find anything vegetarian on the menu, let alone in the central part. Puds include classics like iles flottantes, a Toblerone millefeuilles and – always – a tart of the day. Besides the regular a la carte stuff there are fast-moving seasonal suggestions chalked up on a blackboard and a lunch menu on weekdays @ €22 for 3 courses.
Wines come from the admirable Au Monde du Vin the other side of the road and back towards Basel a bit. There’s a good selection by the glass (loved a meaty Mediterranean white from the Languedoc); or get a bottle, drink what you like and stick a cork in it if/when you’ve had enough; or buy one to take away at the same price charged by Au M du V (the shop’s worth a browse, since you’re here anyway). The only slightly bum note is the service, which is best described as smiling and well-intentioned, but inept. But these are early days and I hope they’re working on it.
and after (so you can tell she really, really didn’t like it)
It’s a step up for our close-to-the-border eating scene and a creditable crack at filling that hole in the middle. Give it a go, let me know how you get on.
Bistrot la Cave
1, rue de Lectoure, 68300 Saint-Louis
Tel. 03 89 70 93 45
Open 7/7 (Sundays too) from 7 a.m. (great breakfasts too) till midnight. Lunch from 12h to 14h30, dinner from 19h30 to 22h45