Épicerie Café & Grocery
French-American fare shines at this elegant neighborhood café
by Karen Spezia
Photographs by Holly Cowart
“What’s good here?” I asked the guy in front of me, waiting to be seated at Épicerie. “Everything,” he said. “It’s all good.” He went on to say that he lived around the corner and came here often — sometimes for lunch, sometimes for dinner, and sometimes, like on this Sunday, for brunch. He usually walked over with his wife and dog to dine on the pet-friendly patio, but sometimes he’d meet a client here, or a buddy for a little male bonding.
Épicerie is like that: a welcoming café that serves many purposes for its neighborhood customers. Named after the quaint specialty-food shops in Europe, Épicerie is ultimately a charming and delicious destination for casual French-Louisiana-inspired dining and takeout gourmet treats.
Like most great neighborhood joints, Épicerie takes some effort to find. You don’t just stumble on it, you seek it out. Burrowed deep into the Rosedale neighborhood off Burnet Road, it sits in the shadows of the Mexican culinary landmark Fonda San Miguel and across the street from the divey Around the Corner convenience store. Its ivy-covered cottage can be easily mistaken as a residential bungalow. But its food is all business.
Chef-owner Sarah McIntosh knows her stuff. Raised in Louisiana on Cajun cooking, she honed her culinary chops in impressive kitchens like Thomas Keller’s Bouchon and Ad Hoc and Austin’s now-closed Olivia. At Épicerie, her varied background has been channeled into a delightful gumbo of approachable but sophisticated fare served in a casual but refined environment. The design, curated by Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, has a rustic farmhouse vibe, with hardwood floors, whitewashed walls, butcher-block tables, and overhead copper lamps. A wall of windows overlooks the lovely, leafy neighborhood.
Épicerie offers a full-service breakfast, lunch, and dinner but also gourmet take-away items from its small grocery. If you’re not in a hurry, I recommend dining in and absorbing Épicerie’s comfy, Continental charm. At breakfast and brunch, don’t miss McIntosh’s spot-on beignets, which my dining companions unanimously agreed were better than those at New Orleans’ iconic Café Du Monde. There’s also an elegant cured-salmon toast, fluffy brioche slices slathered with cream cheese layered with silky house-cured salmon, and accompanied by capers, onions, radish, and soft-boiled egg. For Sunday brunch, there are French classics — croque madame and quiche — but also a fried-chicken sandwich dripping with tangy hot sauce and a riff on eggs Benedict, where biscuits and sausage supplant the traditional English muffin and ham.
At lunch, options include French onion soup and beef tartare, plus a Louisiana fried-shrimp sandwich and fried green tomatoes. Salads include a Mediterranean-inspired bowl of beets, barley, and yogurt sprinkled with pumpkin seeds, mint, and a tarragon vinaigrette. Popular dinner entrées include mussels steamed in a fennel-and-shallot jam and steak frites. The seasonal menu also features a house-made pasta and, occasionally, McIntosh’s boudin sausage. For dessert, home-baked pastries and cookies satisfy a sweet tooth.
The wine list is lengthy and fun, as is the beer list, which boasts almost 50 mostly regional choices. Bottles are also sold to go, as are many items in Épicerie’s small gourmet market, like terrific cheeses, prepared foods, fresh breads and pastries, and pantry staples like high-end jams, crackers, and exquisite Rancho Gordo heirloom dried beans. Whatever you’re in the mood for, you’re bound to find it at Épicerie. And like my new friend said, it’s all good.