Comfort food in a cozy setting
Our favorite local restaurant, in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois, is l’Auberge de l’Ecole, so named because it is in the former schoolhouse (école) of the town. There are two reasons we adore eating here – the restaurant itself is charming with delicious food…and the owners, Brigitte & Patrick Grau, could not be nicer or more attentive to their guests. In fact, we now consider them to be amongst our dearest friends in the area.
Brigitte & Patrick Grau
L’Auberge de l’Ecole serves meals outside in warmer weather
Photo of the teacher and students in front of l’école, February 1956
Whole fresh-cooked truite aux amandes (trout with almonds)
An opening mix of local goodies to whet your whistle
Sunset at l’Auberge
Dinner at l’Ecole with Jack’s sister and friends, September 2019
Cuisses de caille (quail legs) served as an opening dish
Carpaccio de bœuf with local olive oil, cheese and homemade pistou (pesto) – another first course
Brigitte takes orders and prepares all the food, while Patrick makes sure your glass is never empty. He loves to recommend different local wines and apéritifs to go with each dish. He is also a fount of knowledge about local history and sites to see, often drawing a little map for guests, so they can explore the region.
Brigitte & Patrick with his son, Michel
I snapped the photo above after Patrick and Michel had spent the morning collecting gorgeous cèpes mushrooms in the forest. As Patrick told us, cèpes (porcini or boletus edulis) are the king of the forest. Brigitte turns them into ambrosia!
Roasted peppers stuffed with brandade de morue (creamed salt cod)
Brigitte’s simply divine cassoulet
My absolute favorite dish at l’Auberge de l’Ecole is Brigitte’s homemade cassoulet. I have tasted many a cassoulet in my day (I kid you not!) and hers is the best I’ve ever had. It comes to the table bubbling hot, as the video above shows, and the oven dish retains its heat until the cassoulet has been devoured. It is large and filling, but somehow I manage to finish it all every time! It sells out frequently, so it’s best to order it right away, when you see it on the chalkboard menu.
The fireplace also adds both physical and emotional warmth to the restaurant. It is always roaring, from late Autumn through early Spring. Patrick is constantly feeding the fire with grapevines from local vineyards. The grapevine wood imparts a lovely flavor to foods cooked over it. I love eating near the fire when it’s chilly out. It’s so cozy and makes one feel right at home!
Meats are cooked over local grape vines, during the cooler months
A mixture of fresh, local treats
Seasonal veggies with aïoli
Risotto and arugula amuse-bouche
Cured salmon with beets, goat cheese and mâche
Another wonderful thing about this charming place is that it is a one minute drive from our house – or a 5 minute wallk, which is nice, since walking means you can eat more! Also, guests who rent our house can call ahead and Brigitte will bake fresh bread and pastries for their breakfast. They also offer take-out pizzas at night.
In Brigitte’s own words:
“After spending a number of years across the Atlantic and enriched by both my human and catering experience, I felt the need to return to my roots.
“In January 2000, I found the restaurant of my dreams close to my native village and was reunited with my first love, Patrick. Together and both driven by our professional experience, we pay particular attention to our clients, with our Pagnol inspired décor and charm, as if each of them was sitting in our dining room at home. I produce dishes handed down to me by my grandmothers using local produce and inventive recipes with Southern flavours.”
– Brigitte Grau
We’ll be back in France in a few weeks, and we can’t wait to stop by and see our lovely friends at l’Auberge de l’Ecole again. I’m already dreaming of cassoulet…
Note: If you are interested in reading about foraging for cèpes mushrooms, read these two old posts of mine, here and here.