My friend Niles is such a ham.
Last week, as our group paused to survey our dinner table, astonished by the amount of pork we collectively ordered, Niles alone shrugged. “I’m still plumping,” she clipped wryly, and dove right in.
In that moment, Niles framed me perfectly as I arrived in Alsace on a train from Switzerland in late January. I had been watching the temperature steadily drop all the way from Lausanne to Strasbourg, and by the time I met my friends Hélène and Arnaud for dinner at nightfall, it was well below freezing.
Despite having suckled fat and carbs for two weeks, my body demanded more padding.
I craved comfort, and I was in the right place to find it.
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As one who was taught French by Parisians, Alsatian French is a bit odd in my ear. Living very near the German border, and once German by right, Alsatians speak French with a guttural gait.
And they eat like Germans and build like Germans too.
A giant gingerbread village with cobblestones and cathedrals, this was the Strasbourg I remembered from years ago, preserved and quaint.* From the heart of the old town, it was a short walk to Au Pont du Corbeau, one of Hélène’s and Arnaud’s favorite weinstubes in town.
Inside, everything was wooden. Wood tables. Wood ceiling. Wood floors. Wood walls. Wood chairs – another reason to pad, and pad well. The whole place was held together by tongue and groove.
The menu was a single leaf.
The front side was typeset and neat. Apparently, this was the wrong side from which to order. I noticed all of the locals, including my hosts, sit down and promptly turn the menu over.
On the backside was a roster of daily specials, tangled in an impossibly loopy scrawl. Words overlapped each other, dishes ran onto one another. Was this German or French?
Like the food served here, it was a little bit of both.**
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Hélène and Arnaud wasted no time. Before I could decipher the menu, two plates arrived, each bearing three generous slices of foie gras terrine, rosy and smooth, on warm toast. Heaped beside were mounds of Sauterne gelee, glistening like jewels. These were excellent, and, at two apiece, quite the start.
I ordered jambonelle – an entire pork knuckle, brined and roasted on the bone. The pink fist of meat, lined with fat and collagen, was moist and tender, shrouded in a crisp, crackling wrapper. It was magnificent.
They both ordered the salade de boeuf, a plate of tender, cubed roast beef that arrived with a large platter of root vegetable salads, dressed and served cold: beet, carrot, and parsnip. Everything was well-prepared and delicious.
For the table, there was a small crock of spicy mustard and one with horseradish; two of my favorite condiments.
Together, we also shared a bowl of roasted potato scallops, and, at my request some choucroute, which Arnaud and I happily polished off.
There was enough food for twice as many people.
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I was overjoyed to find prunes stewed in red wine on the menu. I ordered it for dessert. They arrived soaking in a warm, syrupy glühwein, spicy and sweet. On top, a ball of cinnamon ice cream. It warmed me.
Arnaud fell for something less virtuous – a coffee ice cream parfait. I briefly saw it, a fluffy white tower, and then the empty glass. He says he orders it every time.
There’s a reason why Alsatians eat like they do. On a fanny-freezing night as it was, Au Pont du Corbeau hit the spot. Familial, and cozy, this weinstube left me rosy cheeked and almost invincible in the frosty night. The food here is the type that makes you happy in its simplicity, drowsy in its generosity.
If you find yourself in the Alsace during plumping season, I highly recommend it. Don’t forget to turn the menu over.
To see all the photos from this meal, CLICK HERE.
Au Pont du Corbeau
21, Quai Saint-Nicolas
+33 03 88 35 60 68
* Admittedly, the archival look of the old town was magnified that night by faux storefronts, temporarily draped over the facade of buildings for the filming of the sequel to the Law-Downey, Jr. blockbuster hit, “Sherlock Holmes.” The last time I was in Strasbourg, it was mid-December, the most magical time to see the city that is often dubbed the “capital of Christmas.”
** The wine list here is not long, and it is not fancy. Like most weinstubes, this one focuses on wines of the region.