If I say French food to you, I’m sure you think of heavy, rich, fancy food. Well, when it comes to the French Pantry, two out of three ain’t bad. Aptly named, the French Pantry is staffed by all French (or French-speaking) people. They specialize in both lunch items (think sandwiches, salads, bruschetta, etc.) and baked goods/desserts. It is MY FAVORITE lunch spot. I know, I know, like children, one should never pick favorites. But this place has the goods.
A few things you should know before we get into the food. First – they are only open 11-2. Only lunch. And if you don’t work in the area, I’m sorry – maybe you should become friends with someone who does and wouldn’t mind bringing it to you to go. That being said, definitely plan to show up at 10:45 so you can be the first in line. And yes, there will be a line. The line doesn’t die down until about 1:30 or so. I went at 1:45, thinking they wouldn’t let me in to eat, but was gratefully surprised to find that, not only did they let me and my eating partner, Stephinitely, in, but there was no line anymore. So – 10:30 or 1:30. Or get it to go, but you’re missing out on the experience. Because of the fanfare, also be prepared to carpool or park in a side lot. Parking spaces are limited. And if you are like me when I went recently – some guy decides to park his car right in the driveway at the front door (the narrowest part of the driveway, mind you) instead of parking to go in to get his to-go food instead of parking at one of the numerous parking spots available (given the time of day). But, rude patrons aside, plan to scour for parking normally.
Secondly – location. If you’ve never been there before, you will probably drive right by it. It’s in the industrial part of town (off of Powers), and it looks like an abandoned factory from the outside – barring the line of people and cars in the parking lot. If you see a pale blue building and a green awning, you’re in the right place. Definitely GPS the place just in case.
Once you brave the line and make it to the front, you’ll realize their menu is artfully placed on index cards and chalkboards. The menu doesn’t change often, so once you’ve seen the menu once, you’ll get the hang of it. You’ll have plenty of time to peruse the menu as you wait in line, don’t worry. Then you’ll be treated to their glass enclosure of home-made desserts (whether the glass enclosure is to protect the desserts from drool, or mauling predators I’m not sure). And these treats definitely sell themselves. Their wedding cake with berries and cheesecakes and eclairs are must haves. But might I suggest ordering them to go? You’ll definitely be too stuffed once you finish your lunch (although impressively, I’ve seen some people get down on their dessert after going a full round of entree. I bow down to you folks).
You’ll order at the cashier – including any dessert or to-gos and drinks, and then they’ll tell you where you’re sitting. Yep – you don’t get to choose. You’ll have to make friends with other lunch-eaters if you are at one of the larger tables. Or don’t, since all of you will most likely be too busy eating to chat or even breathe. Speaking of – there are only roughly 10-12 tables inside. If it’s busy, navigating to your seat takes on a whole new level of skill. They are all solid wood tables and the walls are decorated with baskets and knicknacks like you are in a country home.
Side note – order the lemonade. It’s delicious and also home-made. And all servers will bring you two full glasses of whatever drink you have (whether that be tea or boring water) as soon as you sit down, so you’ll have plenty to down your meal. Next, there comes warm home-made focaccia and baguette – yep, you guessed it, made on the premises – with olive oil and balsamic dip. Now, it’s easy to fill up on this deliciousness (especially the focaccia), but don’t do it – limit yourself to one or two pieces and take the rest to-go. Yep, that’s allowed.
Ok, ok – you ready to get to the food? Now, in addition to their baked goods and breads, there are three things that everyone has to get at least once when you go: the bruschetta (any kind will do), the standard French Dip (or their Parisenne Dip), and their Chicken Panini (pictured). The bruschetta isn’t just two pieces of measly toast with a smear of canned condiment on top. No, no. This bruschetta is enough for five people to share who are very hungry. It comes on a huge plate, mounded high with vegetables and greens. It almost overtakes the plate often. When you are in line or you sit down, you’ll inevitably spy one or two of these mountains making their way to some lucky customer. Basically, once you see it, you know it. Their French Dip is pretty good, but they up the ante on their Parisienne French Dip, which includes Brie, Mustard, and Lettuce and Tomato (in addition to the Roast Beef and side of jus of course). Their regular french dip is pretty touted too though – so you can’t go wrong. Then there’s the Chicken Panini. I have gotten this all three times I’ve been – I know, I know – for your sake, I need to try everything…but it’s too good to resist! Think: homemade toasted bread, roasted chicken, proscuitto, cheese, sundried tomato, fresh tomato, lettuce, and an unbelievable tangy aioli on it. When I get my hands on this bad boy, I have never been able to use just one napkin and I always look like I have no table manners (think licking of the fingers, smear on the cheeks, etc.). I guess that would be my only complaint (and really, is it even a complaint?). That the bread needs to be a bit thicker to hold up to all the goodness they stuff inside. But hell, I’m happy with it just as it is too.
Stephinitely got the Summer Tomato Salad (pictured below) when we went. She asked the cashier how large it was – and the cashier told her – of course – that it was pretty decently sized. Stephinitely said that the salad was pretty delish – the tomatoes were fresh and juicy, the balsamic just the right touch. She also noted that the quinoa and proscuitto were vital – they made what would otherwise be a boring (and not so filling) salad something with sustenance – something that would keep you full for a long time. A part of me knows that she still envied my panini though (calm down – of course I let her try some). DJ Snuggle Monster got the chicken salad sandwich when we visited before. While he said it was one of the best chicken salad sandwiches he’s had, my chicken panini ranked much higher. They do have some interesting items on the menu though that will deserve a second look when I go again – namely the Irish Grilled Cheese (Grilled cheese anything and I’m there, plus I’ve got a bit of Irish heritage to make it legit) and the Kobe Beef Burger. If you go without me, and get either of those – let me know!