There’s an old video of Jacques Pépin that begins with the iconic French chef looking directly into the camera and saying, “If I had to judge how good technically a chef is, I probably would ask him to do an omelet. It is difficult to make a real good omelet.”
Anyone who has watched his subsequent instructions for a classic French omelet and tried to replicate them knows how true this is. A good omelet is only made by someone who has made many mediocre omelets, who has persevered and learned the subtle judgments of heat and flicks of the wrist that transform humble eggs into one of the purest expressions of French cooking technique.
If Pépin were to order the omelet at Bread & Butterfly, I believe he would approve. Billy Allin’s new French bistro is a place where the eggs demonstrate the prowess of a kitchen run by Bryan Stoffelen. After two and a half years at Allin’s side as the chef de cuisine of Cakes & Ale, Stoffelen is helming Atlanta’s best evocation of casual Parisian delight.
At brunch, the restaurant serves scrambled eggs and cold-smoked trout over brioche toast and topped with a dollop of creme fraiche and capers. Every element of this dish was worthy of praise, including the airy but sturdy brioche baked by Allin’s bakery, Proof, and the silky, rich house-cured and smoked trout. But the eggs, so luscious, so creamy, so custardy and soft, became the highlight of the dish. No doubt, that was the result of very patient, attentive, slow scrambling.
Another dish put a lime-brightened gob of avocado and a lightly dressed salad of greens and radish on either end of a crunchy piece of sourdough toast. Between them, a perfectly poached egg sat, waiting to release the rich, runny orange-yellow yolk that united everything. This was a dish that demonstrated artful restraint, the confidence that comes from knowing your ingredients are good enough to be simply placed aside one another.
Oh, but that omelet! Bread & Butterfly serves it at almost any time of the day or night. It is the genuine article, a French omelet, classic in every way. The smooth, buttery exterior is delicate and light, the interior runny and rich. The roll is just tight enough to hold the whole thing together. Sometimes, the plate is dressed with a smear of green pistou, other days a little cheese is added, but nothing complicated or heavy. The omelet here is, as it should be, pure and simple. A small salad comes on the side to round out the plate.
It doesn’t hurt that these eggs are served in a bistro so charming, so carefully designed and tuned with Francophile touches that it could sit comfortably alongside the chic destinations in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. I’ve found that I linger here longer than usual, take more time before ordering a dish, sit around sipping coffee long after I’ve finished eating. The service has the elegantly slow and understated pace of a cafe that is in no hurry, no matter the time of day.
In fact, I’ve found Bread & Butterfly to be every bit as good at 8 a.m. as it is at 8 p.m. Anyone would be pleased with the flawless cappuccino and flaky croissants served at the pastry counter for breakfast, just as anyone who appreciates a good cocktail would enjoy a French 75 or Fitzgerald, an underappreciated classic served in a glistening cold coupe at the charming round cafe tables at dusk. It’s even better with a bite of crusty baguette and soft, salty butter.
The wine list is short and flawless, focused on the fashionable Loire Valley. I’m not sure if it is possible to order anything unimpressive to drink here.
Of course, there is plenty to order aside from eggs at dinner. The cold-smoked trout showed up on points of brioche toast again at dinner, but this time, instead of creme fraiche and scrambled eggs, it was dressed with tarragon cream and shaved fennel. We inhaled the luxuriously rich bites in a matter of seconds.
A trio of salads — marinated beets, lentils and romanesco, celery root Auvergne — put a heap of satisfying, late-winter bounty on the plate. A bowl of creamy tomato soup came topped with a buttery puff pastry baked across the edges of the dish. From the moment the spoon broke the crust to the last scraping sip, it was a rich delight.
But, that richness was no competition for the Burger Américain, which was pure decadence. Topped with caramelized onions, dripping Swiss cheese, and with a heavy dollop of mustard, this loose, rather rare patty reminded me of the richness of steak tartare. The fries that accompanied it were lovely, too. Stringy, salty and crunchy as they were, they didn’t need to be dipped into a thing.
You might think that the red snapper baked in parchment paper would be a lighter option than the burger, but I’m not so sure. When the fish arrived at the table, the waiter unwrapped the paper to reveal two exquisitely moist filets arranged together with lemons between. He then added golden brown bread crumbs, a relish of briny olives and a small pitcher’s worth of beurre blanc.
Butter is in the name of this restaurant for a reason. It is possible to overindulge.
Still, the possibility of overindulgence is a flaw that any restaurant should be lucky to have, like a charming mole on an otherwise too perfect face. Have another glass of chenin blanc. At Bread & Butterfly, you have all day.
Bread & Butterfly
Overall rating: 3 of 4 stars
Food: French bistro
Service: casual but elegant
Best dishes: omelet, soft scrambled eggs and cold-smoked trout, burger, fries, croissants
Vegetarian selections: many
Price range: $-$$
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: 7:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturdays, 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays
Parking: valet and paid garage
Reservations: not accepted
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: moderate
Address, phone: 290 Elizabeth St., Atlanta. 678-515-4536
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