Interview with the Frenchman

Credit: Lonna Levine

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Bo Owen Mcmillan

Last Saturday I met a Frenchman at a café in Chapel Hill that told me, “I have yet to encounter a truly great croissant in the U.S. I do not believe that it exists.”

He had been listening to a food-loving friend and me discuss food for the past hour, and for some reason, when we got onto the subject of cheeses and baking, he felt the need to intervene.

I didn’t sense any haughtiness in his comment, but there was another element to his comment that I was able to glean. Perhaps it was my own eccentricity and nostalgic bias, but I knew, deep down, that he had not yet experienced Amelie’s, and I felt sorry for him.

Almost immediately a question, the question, burst forth from my lungs, having spent multiple nights and some of the best times of my life in the bakery’s wacky interior, “Then you haven’t been to Amelie’s yet, have you?”

“No…I have not…” he (somewhat defensively) replied, trailing off to prepare for the coming retort.

“Then, sir, I do not think you’re qualified to say that,” I finished, somewhat surprised with the arrogance my tone assumed.

Our conversation was amiable, don’t get me wrong, but his challenge and the boldness of his claim ignited a pride in the local institution that only those of us from the Queen City can truly understand.

As soon as I heard his comment, though he definitely didn’t mean it in this way, I heard ignorance of Charlotte‘s vastly under-appreciated dining scene, lost between innumerable mentions of Asheville and Charleston, longtime culinary capitals of the region. I heard the ignorance of those that had never been drunk in NoDa and in dire need of sustenance, then had their hunger sated by an elegant pastry or croque monsieur from one of the few bakeries I’ve ever encountered that is open 24/7. I heard the blind unable to grasp a sandwich from Le’s Sandwich Shop. I heard those that had never eaten pimento cheese fries and the pecan pie at the Diamond waxing lyrical on the virtues of Northeastern diners. And I was pissed — but controllably, and (thankfully) politely so.

I don’t really know if Amelie’s croissants will measure up to the Frenchman’s idyllic definition of the baked treat (“Simple, buttery, flaky with a bit of chew, and fresh. They are incredible because they make perfection out of barely anything.”) but I do know they are damn good. I don’t know if Amelie’s will make him explore other parts of Charlotte, or if I had cured any of the ignorance about the Queen City, or if he even gave a shit about my opinion.

But I do know that after I described their twice-baked croissant, which he curtly told me “is actually a bastardized pan au chocolat,” and our conversation ended, he returned to my table for a final question before he took off to catch the last bus of the night.

“Where can I find that place again?” I couldn’t help but to smile.

 

Originally Posted: September 20, 2013

A Boring Contributor

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