Raleigh is une ville cosmopolite, with an irresistible pocket of French culture that spans from Europe to the colonial outposts. Whether you speak the language or are a major Francophile, you’ll feel at home at one of the City of Oaks’ authentic French restaurants, bakeries, and bookshop that will keep you well-versed in all things Gallic. Here, we’ve rounded up some hotspots française to check out around the city; you’ll have as French of an experience as you can get without hopping on RDU’s direct flight to Charles de Gaulle, from books to baguettes to boeuf bourguignon.
Raleigh French Bakery
Kadar Boughrara, the owner of this Hillsborough Street bakery, learned French pastry-making techniques from traveling back and forth for two years to a bakery in the Algerian neighborhood where he grew up. “I’d fly back here from Algeria and buy all this butter, eggs, sugar and flour and practice for two weeks, over and over,” Boughrara says. Friends and family soon wanted to purchase the products of his practice runs, and, a few locations in other parts of the Triangle later, he’s now settling into his newest location, with morning regulars and local French students who frequently stop by. His bestsellers, and rightly so, are his rustic butter and chocolate croissants. You’ll notice they all look different and, Boughrara says, he always uses extra cold butter (as opposed to margarine), which makes them so popular. The bakery’s peach tarts, galettes and spread of dainty almond and pistachio cookies also beg to be tasted.
1213 Hillsborough St; raleighfrenchbakery.org
This Five Points staple has been open for 25 years under the same owner and head chef, John Toler, who trained at L’Academie de Cuisine, a small French culinary school near Washington, D.C. and, at the time, the only one of its kind. Toler is known for his unique takes on French classics and globally inspired dishes prepared using French techniques. “We are more about the French ideology and approach to our cooking technique than necessarily always serving French food,” Toler says. The restaurant’s popular escargot appetizer, for instance, is served differently than the traditional style snail-in-shell bathed in garlic and butter. “We take the idea and flavors of this classic French dish and add to it. It’s not the ubiquitous escargot presentation.” Bloomsbury’s escargot is served in bite-sized, homemade parmesan pastries with garlic, butter, crispy parsley and served alongside tangy marinated tomatoes. Another popular dish is the quintessential Rabbit Normandy. “We have customers who’ve been to Normandy and tell us this was as good, or better—that it reminded them of their travels,” Toler says. 509 W Whitaker Mill Rd; bloomsburybistro.com
Located in an unassuming shopping center off of Falls of Neuse Road, Saint Jacques is run by chef and general manager Serge Falcoz-Vigne, who says what sets the restaurant apart is authenticity and passion; he is French after all! “The love comes from the kitchen and that is reflected in the plates,” Falcoz-Vigne says. He hails from the southeast region of Grenoble and trained in Paris. Saint Jacques’ menu features true French classics with a variety of flavors, such as boeuf bourguignon, roasted lamb and foie gras. Falcoz-Vigne says he takes inspiration from the seasons and what’s around him, which he translates into his dishes and the dining experience. “For me, it’s about providing our guests with an overall French experience,” he says. “When you are eating, nothing is as important as eating.” 6112 Falls of Neuse Rd; saintjacquesfrenchcuisine.com
Des Livres et Delices
Located in Five Points, this bookstore, gift and gourmet food shop is owned by Laurence and Philippe Kneuss, who are originally from Burgundy. You won’t find crusty translations of Sartre and American interpretations of Brie here; most of the books in stock are actually written in French and the cheeses, mustards, tea and wines are sourced directly from their country of origin. The Kneusses are happy to share a bit of their world with you. “We want to offer very specific French tastes,” Philippe says. “We’re not selling the same thing as Whole Foods; we choose very specific flavors and keep a short inventory.” That includes a handful of items you can’t buy anywhere else in the U.S., such as stationery from the oldest theater in Paris, La Comedie Françoise, and a line of mustards from the only artisan in Burgundy who still makes mustard by hand. Check the shop’s website to partake in some truly French experiences, including cheese and wine tastings and visits from authors and artists. 2008-2010 Fairview Rd; deslivresetdelicesus.com