Ok, picking up where I left off a couple days ago.

When I finalized plans for this trip – the fourth consecutive year in France during September – I knew I wanted to spend a significant chunk of the three or so weeks in Toulouse.

But I also wanted to add another French city I hadn’t been to before. Last year, it was Lille.

I was leaning toward a flight into Geneva with a quick train ride to Lyon – France’s third largest city. I’d also work in St.-Etienne which has a first division soccer club that had a home match during my contemplated time frame.

But then one of the women who I met here on my first trip to Toulouse helped launch a new restaurant in Nantes, which already was high on my hopeful list of cities to visit because of touts from others.

So, I ended up settling on Nantes so I could visit Elsa – and the great new restaurant/bar/small grocery La Grande Barge.

The Barge has been serving meals since mid-May of this year but celebrates its ceremonial grand opening today.

I couldn’t attend the grand opening but I had lunch there on Monday and Tuesday of this week.

On Monday, I had a pork and rice dish that incorporated Columbo, a blend of spices unique to France. The rice was plumpish, moist basmati and the pork was fatty and tender. Since Elsa is kinda famous for her desserts, I had the “pear crumble” which included flavors of chocolate and hazelnut.

Tuesday was my favorite. I sat outside under sunny skies and had the “bowl of the day,” which is often vegetarian at the Barge but not always. On this day, it was amazing for its simplicity and deliciousness. It was a slice of curried/roasted pumpkin (a product used often by Elsa) grown in Vendée on a bed of buckwheat and beans topped by salad and a perfectly timed poached egg (the bowl is pictured above).

The dessert was ridiculous. She calls it a “tarte au fromage blanc citronnée” which was basically a slice of unbelievable lemon cheesecake topped with a drizzle of salty buttery caramel.

La Grande Barge was packed both days I was there. There’s a core four who work there including Elsa in the kitchen. Jean-Baptiste works the tables. And Francois and Aurelie assure that it call comes together during the busy lunch rush. The restaurant is backed by a collective which I don’t fully understand other than there’s some 30 or so people with a hand in the direction and philosophy which is intensely focused on finding and using local producers. The Barge says almost all of their products come from within 62 miles of Nantes. A map on the wall to the right as you enter shows in detail where everything comes from and who produced it.

When I was there Tuesday, people were also walking away with sacks of local produce sold at the store. Interestingly, and I guess kinda French, the Grande Barge is closed on the weekends.

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