Thanks to Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Misérables and the May 10-21 production of the musical at the Buell Theatre, we have classic French food on the brain. Think coq au vin, escargot, steak frites, beef Bourguignon, onion soup, delicate pastries and more. Bread too proves important to many French meals as it was to Jean Valjean, only in this case you can simply order it instead of stealing a loaf through the bakery window. In honor of our courageous and unfortunate hero, skip the fine French dining and instead, visit one of these less pricey French-influenced venues to indulge in Provençal cuisine in a way Valijean only dreamed of.
Le French Bakery & Cafe
4901 S. Newport St., Denver; 720-710-8963
Owned by Aminata and Rougui Dia, two Senegalese sisters who grew up in Paris, Le French serves classic Parisian cafe fare with a few African twists. On the bakery side get French-style pastries, tarts and coffee. Then stay for brunch and order salad niçoise, croque madame, and quiche paysanne with buttered leeks, bacon and Gruyère cheese. The quaint spot also serves dinner and items such as a cauliflower steak with coconut-orange curry, steak frites, and bouillabaisse with crusty baguette. Soon, Le French will have a second location in Denver to visit as well, until then, diners can enjoy the no frills and solid bistro fare at the original spot.
Bánh & Butter Bakery Cafe
9935 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora; 720-513-9313
A year ago chef Thoa Nguyen opened her French-Vietnamese bakery and cafe in the East Colfax Arts District, and it’s only gotten more popular since. It’s easy to see why. Nguyen studied French pastry and baking and incorporates her skills with her own heritage to create plenty of tasty treats that will leave both the tummy and wallet full. Expect sweet and savory croissants, French apple tart, baguette or croissant sandwiches, Vietnamese coffee, espresso, and the chef’s specialty, delicately layered crepe cakes. Get the goods to go or find a seat in the small cafe, where guests can also check out the local art and plants while they nibble on an ube cupcake.
717 17th St., Denver; 303-405-7575
While chef and restaurateur Frank Bonanno’s downtown spot isn’t broadly inexpensive for lunch and dinner, the happy hour here has all you need for a fraction of the cost. Each Wednesday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m., diners can sidle up to the vast horseshoe-shaped bar and fill up on $10 dishes of moules frites, with plenty of garlicky white wine broth perfect for soaking up those fries. A baguette with country butter and lavender runs $5, three French dip sliders are $11, and a charcuterie board costs $13. Plus, for $5.75 each, indulge in a French 75 cocktail or glass of wine.
2950 South Broadway, Englewood; 303-777-7222
Bâtards, baguettes, croissants, palmiers, brioche and more delicious French baked goods come out of this Englewood bakery, which was started in 2001 by Pascal Trompeau, a native of Limoges, France. While Trompeau no longer helms the venture, the team is still dedicated to churning out the same traditional French pastries and bread it always has, every day save for Sunday when the bakery is closed.
Bon Ami Bistro & Creperie
295 S Pennsylvania St., Denver; 303-862-4959
At Bon Ami, don’t be surprised if one bite of a Saint Tropez crêpe with salmon, goat cheese, spinach and a light orange sauce brings you back to the Rue du Montparnasse in Paris or a sweet cafe in Brittany. Here the crêpes taste like they do in France, letting the delicate folds of the pancake encompass sweet and savory fillings such as béchamel sauce, mushrooms, brie, prosciutto, Nutella and juicy berries. The bistro serves other foods too, such as fresh oysters, imported French escargot, chicken croquettes, pommes purée, chicken liver mousse and more during weekend brunch and dinner.
Katherine’s French Bakery & Cafe
728 S. University Blvd., Denver; 303-287-3888
There’s nothing pretentious about this Bonnie Brae cafe, the setting proves simple and the food is inexpensive and classic. The menu caters to the breakfast and lunch crowd, with eight different quiches on the menu, each served, in true French style, with salad or fruit. Crepes too make up a good portion of the offerings, both sweet and savory. For breakfast a croissant sandwich or crab omelet should be ordered, with a side of pastry made by baking master and the owner of the shop, Katherine Keeley Pappas.
2267 Kearney St., Denver; 303-825-3232
Recently the iconic French eatery by Crafted Concepts moved from its longtime downtown Denver home and to Park Hill. But, even though the address changed, the food remains the solid French bistro fare as before. For dinner the bill can add up, but head there for brunch and not only does the cost go down, but you may find French food is the perfect cuisine for Denver’s favorite meal. Order the baguette with Rodolphe Le Meunier butter, lobster bisque, steak tartare, and the specialty Crepe Vendôme, which comes with roast chicken, egg, olives, capers, tomato, and béarnaise sauce.