When we asked for a table for two the young woman behind the bar shook her head. “Sorry, we’re full. But if you care to wait, you can have an aperitif on the house.” We liked the idea and squeezed ourselves among the other patrons that were waiting by the bar. At the back of the room a man was shoving large juicy steaks in a pizza oven in which a wood fire was burning. He was perspiring abundantly. Fascinated we watched how he first coated the steaks with aromatized oil. Next he laid them on a metal tray. Using a traditional pizza shovel he then put the steaks in the middle of the oven, at a safe distance from the hot logs.
2008: we had booked in advance and came in early.
That's why the place is still empty.
That's why the place is still empty.
We were each given a glass of local rosé wine, called ‘Gris de Toul’ and a small bowl of crisps and green olives. Hardly twenty minutes later, we were shown to one of the tables facing the bar. By then we had learned that beef, in all sizes and shapes was the specialty of the house. As a gesture to non-meat eaters the menu card featured grilled salmon … but that was it. The choice of special beef cuts was impressive though, ranging from the traditional ‘entrecôte’, ‘onglet’, and ‘filet pur’ to the more exclusive ‘tablier du sapeur’ and the ultimate delicacy: ‘la pièce du boucher’. The latter means ‘the butcher’s choice’, meaning THE best part that the butcher is likely to keep for himself. We were tempted to order ‘this rare piece of beef’ until we noticed that it came as one solid piece weighing something in between 350 and 400 gr. … per person! Now, I don't know about you, but for me that is way too much!
Instead we had the ‘faux filet’ steak with pepper sauce, oven-roasted potatoes and green garden beans. We ordered a bottle of the ‘Gris de Toul’; Toul being a small town west of Pont-à-Mousson. For some obscure reason this particular local wine is described as ‘gris’ or even ‘oeil de perdrix’ (partridge’s eye) instead of rosé.
Service was quick, efficient and very friendly. And the food was delicious. When we complimented the waitress on the quality of the meat, she explained that the landlord, who was also ‘operating’ the pizza oven, was a butcher’s son and that he bought all his meat ‘sur pieds’. This means that he goes out to the local farms where the cattle are raised. He picks the animals he suspects having the most tender and tastiest meat.
By the time we had finished our lunch most patrons had left and returned to their offices. The embers in the pizza oven were slowly dying when the landlord walked over to our table to enquire whether we had enjoyed our meal. When he heard that were from Belgium, he pulled up a chair and offered us a pousse-café. He told us about his plans to open a similar restaurant in Brussels. His son, who was 17 at the time, was to become the manager of this new restaurant. He therefore wanted to know what was the best area in the city to start such a business and whether the Belgians would like the ‘steak-in-pizza-oven’ concept. Those things are always hard to tell in advance, of course. So we simply said that we loved the idea and the food and that other people would probably appreciate it too.
Since that first visit we have been returning to Pierre Bonaventure’s restaurant in Pont-à-Mousson each time we are passing through the area. Beef is still the restaurant’s specialty, but nowadays you can also get sardines, lobster, … all roasted in the famous pizza oven.
Pierre never opened a similar restaurant in Brussels though, which is a real shame as I’m sure the concept has a lot of potential. Do you think it would work in - say - London, New York, Montréal or Melbourne?