August 2008 Issue
Every year, as a treat, my high school French teacher, Mrs. Baker, would plan a field trip to La Chatelaine French Bakery and Bistro, a popular lunch spot that, while nearby, seemed a world away from the confines of our little school in Upper Arlington. One by one, we’d line up, cafeteria style, and nervously place our orders with French-speaking servers.
Not much has changed about La Chatelaine (French for “lady of the castle”) since I graduated from high school. It’s grown in size (thanks to an expansion), and number (there are now three locations throughout Columbus), but the inviting scent of fresh baked bread is still there to greet guests at the door (it’s baked in-house daily), and the food is just as I remembered it.
“It’s amazing, this place is more popular as ever,” says my friend and former classmate who has joined me at the original location for an afternoon of food and nostalgia. It’s true — the place is packed. She orders the croque monsieur sandwich (ham and cheese with Bechamel sauce) — a favorite of hers from high school days, and the restaurant’s Caesar salad. I order the brikette — a rich, hot brick-shaped puff pastry filled with creamy spinach, artichoke and cheese — and a cup of authentic French roast coffee. Back in high school, I never drank coffee, but some of this stuff might have helped me through many a French (or chemistry) midterm.
The decor is as comforting as the food — the handcrafted woodwork was inspired by owner Stan Wielezynski’s family manor in Normandy. Red brick columns, stone archways, a cozy fireplace and stocked bookshelves add to its country inn ambiance.
La Chatelaine, family owned since 1991, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, but just try to keep your eyes off the mouth-watering pastries and desserts displayed prominently near the entrance. I give in and order a mixed fruit tart (glazed mandarin oranges, kiwi and berries atop a custard-filled shell) — the same dessert I used to inhale when I was 16. The pastry — and the memories — are delicious.