Vive la French Place
Those in the know line up early for croissants from That French Place in Charlevoix
By Geri Dietze | Jan. 8, 2022
When Northern Express first reached out to Brian and Emily Freund, owners of That French Place in Charlevoix, the couple was in Paris. There, they were hosting a small culinary travel group and taking baking classes at La Cuisine Paris, an English-speaking French cooking school overlooking the Seine River and Notre-Dame Cathedral. Now stateside, they graciously shared the story of their popular cafe.
Paris has been the home to thousands of cafés since the 17th century. Charlevoix has one such French-influenced café … and it was founded in 2015.
Switch out the Seine for a northern Michigan harbor town, and That French Place, a premier creperie and café, has a provenance as authentic as anything one might find in the City of Light.
What’s in a Name? Qu'est-ce qu'un nom?
“We were going over possible names, trying to be clever with all these French words and ideas,” says Brian Freund, who co-owns the café with his wife Emily. “Then we just looked at each other and said, if we call it any of these names, everyone will just say, ‘You know, That French Place,’ and it stuck.”
The café combines the Freunds’ love of travel and food exploration, which informs everything they do. In fact, they made their first croissant in France and spent a year perfecting the skill.
“French baking is about techniques and process; the French see it as a true art form,” Brian says. “Truly, to bake delicious things that stand out from everyone else’s, it needs to all be done with the same precision.
“We try to be as exacting and authentic as possible.”
Entrez, s'il vous plait
Inside, the atmosphere is easygoing and familiar. Owners and staff alike are generous in both spirit and knowledge. The yeasty, sugary warmth mixes with the aroma of fresh coffee beans and tassels of drying herbs.
The café itself exudes casual French café ambience with Yankee grab-it-and-go practicality. (Rotating carry-out meal options will resume in a matter of weeks.) Griddles are sizzling, ready to create crepes on demand. Tidy trays of pastries and sweets – from the traditional croissants and colorful macarons to snickerdoodles – fill the glass-fronted cases.
“We model our displays after what we see in our travels,” Brian says. “The product should be displayed with respect.”
And, like its French counterparts, the coffee is a rich brew – in this case a medium dark proprietary blend called Funky Frenchman. It was created by Traverse City’s Higher Grounds, one of more than 20 northern Michigan suppliers.
“There are definitely some products we can only get from France,” Emily says, “but we try to stay true to our amazing local producers.”
Croissants, Crepes and Quiche
The croissants – especially almond – sell out fast, so go early and often. The pastries feature thin golden swirls that are two parts dough to one part butter (in this case an American version of the French cultured product, with around 82 percent milk fat.)
The whole process takes three days, because the dough has to rest before the butter can be incorporated.
“It’s labor-intensive; the butter and dough (must) be at the proper temperature, so when it bakes you see the distinct layers,” Brian says. “That’s what makes a croissant truly a work of art.”
If a pastry can be sublime, this is it. Choose from plain, almond or chocolate.
Buckwheat crepes are a specialty, based on the traditional 500-year-old recipe from France’s Brittany region.
“White flour wasn’t around until early in the 20th century,” Brian says. “The sweet crepes that many people associate with France came a long time after the buckwheat.”
Both versions are tender/crisp, with a large selection of sweet or savory toppings. A paper sleeve makes them user-friendly. In the summer, lines stretch down the street, so schedule accordingly.
Quiche is served in a generous wedge, big enough to share if one is so inclined. Under the uniformly golden top, a custard of fresh eggs and heavy cream encase a variety of ingredients, all anchored by an authentic buttery French crust that is thin but substantial.
A specialty is quiche Charlevoix, Emily’s creation of ham, Swiss cheese, and herbs de Provence, good enough to rival the popular quiche Lorraine in the hearts of Francophiles everywhere. (Brian calls it her “master plan for world domination, one quiche at a time.”)
A side of homemade applesauce complements every quiche order. The Freunds source their apples in bulk every October at the end of Charlevoix’s Apple Fest. “We buy as many bushels as we can and spend two months making applesauce,” Emily says.