Cheap Eats: Maison Robert and Le Caveau Fine Wines
A French revolution in ChambleeWednesday October 12, 2011 09:00 am EDT
Up in Chamblee, there's a French revolution quietly brewing. This is an uprising of Burgundy and baguettes, croissant and Champagne. The leader of this revolution is an old veteran of Atlanta's dessert underground — Maison Robert — a shop that has been firing up powerfully decadent chocolates for this city for more than three decades. At Maison Robert's side (literally, next door) is Le Caveau Fine Wines, a young upstart aiming to make its mark on Atlanta's retail wine scene. Between the two, there's enough Francophilia to make visitors feel like they've stepped into some strange corner of Paris, where everything is pastry and Premier Cru, but Walmart is just a block away.
Maison Robert came along in 1977, well before artisan chocolate became the hot new thing. Robert and Patricia Reeb quietly churned out delightfully rich treats in a corner of the city not quite known for its culinary chops. About two years ago, Maison Robert moved to its current location on Peachtree Road in Chamblee. Thanks to daughter Katia's pastry prowess, they expanded their bakery offerings and launched a small lunch menu as well, primarily for takeout, but also for enjoying at a few small tables in the shop. Which brings us to today.
Maison Robert's chocolates and pastries have been consistently praised (rightfully so) over the years, and it seems time for its savory offerings to rise up as well. The menu is concise, and makes good use of Katia's house-made breads. The options include sandwiches combining your choice of a few meats (thinly sliced turkey, ham or Maison Robert's own roast beef), two cheeses (tangy shredded Swiss or creamy Brie), and three breads (baguette, croissant or multigrain toast). There's also a "vegetarian pan bagnat," essentially a niçoise salad in a sandwich, with olives, lettuce, tomato, hard-boiled egg and cucumber on a large round roll. Maison Robert leaves out the tuna or anchovy typically found on a pan bagnat in France, and adds a bit of Brie in its place. A chef's salad and a daily quiche (Lorraine, spinach, or tomato and mushroom) round out the options.
Simply put, you can't go wrong. The meats are of very good quality, and the breads are all a wonderful departure from standard sandwich shop offerings. The croissant is buttery and flaky and goes perfectly with flavorful ham and Swiss. The baguette balances a crunchy exterior and soft interior, just as it should. And the multigrain bread has a healthy kick of rye and caraway that begs for roast beef and Brie. The pan bagnat is the weakest option — the bread a bit tough, the vegetables a bit bland, the lack of the salty strength of anchovies or the chunky presence of tuna sorely missing — but the bites where the hard-boiled egg and olives came together won me over in the end. The Southerner in me is a sucker for egg and olive, whether on Wonder bread or in the midst of something a bit more foreign.
So, yes, Maison Robert makes a mean sandwich. But if you're having a hard time justifying the trip out to Chamblee for a simple sandwich, look no further than the quiche. Yes, quiche. Eggs, cream and pork in a flaky crust can be a thing of beauty. Maison Robert's quiche Lorraine is a reassuring bite of decadence that is both light and rich, yielding and crisp around the edges. You can buy the daily quiche by the slice, or get a whole frozen quiche to go that will tempt you at home until you succumb to its siren call.
If you're still hungry after a sandwich and a slice of quiche, there are, of course, rows upon rows of chocolate and other treats. Who can resist a dark chocolate-coated almond macaroon (or coconut for that matter)? These will make Mounds or Almond Joy lovers weep in realization that they've been enjoying a horribly pale imitation of the real thing.
As for Maison Robert's next-door neighbor, Le Caveau Fine Wines frankly focuses on bottles that might not fit the "Cheap Eats" billing, but does offer a wide range of gems for less than $15 amidst the big time Burgundy and Côtes du Rhône. Owner Eric Brown and compatriot Daniel Crawford offer knowledge and passion aplenty, and can guide customers toward a bottle or two that might fit their palate or pair nicely with a ham and Swiss croissant.
Together, Le Caveau and Maison Robert make a formidable French front, where you can grab a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, but never have to figure out the Paris Metro or how to say, "Where's the nearest Walmart?" in French.