Back when I lived in the city, I hit my corner bistro when I craved comfort food. There’s one on practically every corner. But since I moved to Westport, the authentic bistro has been elusive. That is, until friends turned me onto Café Luc’s, a homey, out-of-the-way Parisien gem tucked behind Ridgefield’s main drag, for real-deal peasant fare in one of the town’s oldest and most rustic buildings.
To get to Café Luc’s, you cruise up the winding Rte. 35, past antique farmhouses and sprawling country spreads, until you hit Ridgefield’s postcard-quaint town center.
Admittedly, it’s a bit of a schlep for a weekday lunch, but the payoff is a steaming crock of soupe à l'oignon gratinée or a heaping bowl of moules marinières with addictively thin and crunchy pommes frites—perfect cold-weather food. It’s a taste of Paris secreted away in the ‘burbs.
Last Tuesday, with my foodie pal Lloyd, the owner of Southport’s Double L farm stand, in tow, I made my annual fall pilgrimmage. When you pull up, Luc’s couldn’t be housed in a more fitting setting—a 200-year-old blacksmith’s shop that’s been home to a revolving door of French culinary predecessors over the years.
In 2001, Hervé Aussavis, the former owner of Le Gamin in SoHo and Les Deux Gamins in Greenwich Village, moved up to Ridgefield (with wife Marissa and sons, Luc, 8, and Marc, 6) and dug in his heels.
In the eight years since opening, Café Luc’s has solidified its status as the local hangout of choice. After you’ve sampled the generous portions of the hearty peasant food, the small but well-chosen wine list and the laid-back back Euro vibe (not to mention the fair prices), you’ll wish you had a bonafide French joint like this in your neighborhood. I know I do.
From the moment Luc’s opens its doors at 11 a.m. to last-call at 11 p.m. Regulars stop in for a café au lait, a platter of steak-frites or a late-night Pernod at the bar. There’s live “gipsy” music on Wednesdays and, on any given night, you’re likely to rub elbows with rock royalty (Marissa’s the niece of Patti Hansen), retired hedge fund managers and low-wattage stars performing at the Ridgefield Playhouse.
You’ll find that café’s cellar interior is country-French to the core, right down to its genuine stone foundation walls, crooked beamed ceilings and Dijon-colored accents. In nice weather, the patio, with market umbrellas and bistro chairs, is a terrific al fresco spot.
If you’re like us and prefer casual bistro cooking to fussy haute cuisine, you’ll appreciate the menu, heavy on classics, prepared with a light hand by chef Jason Hicks, who knows enough not to mess with tradition. Standouts include frisée aux lardons et oeuf poché (frisée salad with poached egg and bacon), cassoulet Toulousain (duck and beans stew from southwestern France) and croque-monsieur (warm ham and melted cheese on country bread), the ultimate comfort food. Can’t find something that appeals? You don’t like bistro food.
On my last visit in August, dining al fresco on the Parisian outdoor patio, Hicks elevated the salade Niçoise to a higher plane simply by adding grilled, fresh sushi-grade tuna, served rare, to the platter of haricots verts, new potatoes, ripe plum tomatoes, Nicoise olives and hard-boiled eggs. Hicks just “gets it.” His reliance on best-quality ingredients speaks volumes about his grasp of French bistro fare. In addition to the regular menu, there are a few daily specials, like today’s carrot-cumin soup, heavily influenced by what’s fresh at the farmers’ market.
For lunch, I start off with piping-hot French onion soup, topped with caramelized Gruyere. This satisfying house favorite does not disappoint. I follow it with the chef’s special salad—a medley of tender mache topped with sweet, roasted beets, buttery Roquefort and crumbled walnuts (a brilliant fall/winter combo). Lloyd opts for the mammoth pâté-baguette (house-made pâté on a crusty baguette, garnished with cornichons). He deems the pâté rich, textured and full of flavor, without being gamey or strong. “It needed nothing,” he explains, as he savors the last bites. “Not even a dab of mustard.”
Everything about this place invites you to linger and, in fact, we’re sorely tempted to stretch out our lunch with a bottle of Bordeaux, but alas, we have kids to fetch after school, so we forgo the vin and make due with an ice tea and a old-fashioned Coke (love the retro glass bottles).
While we take a breather on the cushy banquette, our eager-to-please young waiter materializes with a plate piled high with pommes frites. “You have to try these,” he says. They’re so golden and appealing, we snap a few photos before diving in with abandon. The couple seated a few tables away take notice. “Isn’t this place the best?” asks the husband. “We come here all the time.” Turns out, they travel from New Canaan expressly for the “to-die-for” escargots, whose seductive, garlicky aroma wafts over to our table. Our new friends offer us a taste and, though I don’t often turn down such an offer, I’m too full to oblige. I make a mental note to try the escargots—as well as the couple’s other go-to fave, the juicy roasted poulet—on my next visit.
After lunch, my jeans are pushing maximum density, and as temping as the homemade tarte tatin sounds, dessert is not in the cards today. I can barely muster room for a cup of tea. No matter. I’ll be back. I’ve found my new holiday lunch destination. What could be more festive than a shopping excursion with a few good friends to Ridgefield’s charming (and independently owned) boutiques and antique shops, followed by a leisurely lunch at Café Luc’s? Only this time, I’ll know enough to send my kids to a friends’ house after school so I can linger over a glass of two of that Bordeaux.
Café Luc’s is open with non-stop service from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The restaurant offers take-out at lunch and live music on Wednesday nights.
If you’re paying with plastic, please note that the restaurant accepts only Visa and MasterCard. Luc’s also charges a 20-percent gratuity to parties of six or more and a $4 charge for any substitutions or sharing.
Luc's Café/Restaurant 3 Big Shop Lane, Ridgefield. 203.894.8522