Alexandria has a new eatery: Le Pain Quotidien (daily bread) a Belgian bakery fanchise.
Bread is the foundation of Le Pain Quotidien. Founder Alain Coumont, a prominent chef in Brussels, Belgium, believed that he could make a bread which was worthy of his patrons. He produced a simple recipe consisting of only 3 ingredients: flour, bread and water. From the time Chef Coumont perfected his beloved loaf of bread in the 1980’s to today, Le Pain Quotidien has expanded into 10 countries, with two stores currently operating in this area.
The first local Le Pain Quotidien opened in Georgetown in September, 2007. The Georgetown location supplies bread daily to the location in Old Town Alexandria, which opened 3 weeks ago. Boules and baguettes made from organic flours are displayed behind the front counter and invite you to enjoy a sandwich or tartine, while breathtaking tarts, pastries and cookies signal that you had better leave room for dessert.
A daily menu is written on a chalkboard from which you can order for take-out or self serve dining in. A selection of baguette sandwiches, tartines and soup of the day is available. A more extensive menu is offered if you prefer to sit and have the wait staff take care of you. Specialties include Quiche Lorraine, Grilled Chicken Cobb Salad, and a Board of Fine Cheeses.
Beyond the standing tables where you can enjoy your take-out food, there are two floors of waited tables. On each floor, the centerpiece of the dining area is a communal table; a founding principal of Le Pain Quotidien. Large and low wooden tables ground the dining area and invite patrons to commune and share with one another. Strangers sharing bread with strangers, with the hope that by the time they are sated, they can say that they each met a new friend that day.
I visited Le Pain Quotidien recently and enjoyed my food and moreover, enjoyed the people who work there. Once inside, I was greeted with a friendly smile and asked if I was eating in or taking out. Undecided, I took the scenery in for a few moments, gathering my choices for lunch from the breads, to the chalkboard menu, as well as the chocolate brownies behind the glass counter. I decided to eat while standing at one of the 4 tall tables which line the front windows. I ordered a baguette sandwich ($7.50) with ham, gruyere cheese and stone ground mustard, along with pea soup. My name was taken and I waited at a table for a short time until my lunch was brought to me.
The baguette sandwiches are large-about 10 to 12 inches long and in traditional French fashion, are modestly filled with meat and cheese. Baguette sandwiches and tartines (open faced sandwiches) are not the typical deli-style fare where enormous amounts of cold cuts billow out between thin slices of bread. No-here the bread is the star of the show. Crusty, chewy, hearty, bread. So hearty in fact, I saved half of my baguette sandwich for later.
My pea soup was smoky and I enjoyed the “pop” of the occasional whole pea in my mouth. On the thin side at the onset, the pea soup became thicker as I worked my way to the bottom of the cup. Along with two generous slices of different breads, an order of soup is a meal in itself and a terrific value for $5.95.
While eating my lunch, I realized that Le Pain Quotidien is also a purveyor of fine foods. A beautiful large wooden cupboard displays an impressive array of olive oils, honeys, mustards, olives, jams, and Belgium chocolate spreads.
Le Pain Quotidien offers not only organic breads, but hearty meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner in a convivial atmosphere that lends itself to communing with your neighbor.
Welcome Le Pain Quotidien. We’re no longer strangers.
Le Pain Quotidien
701 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314