My recent short visit to Metz, the capital of the Lorraine region in the northeastern-most corner of France, was ostensibly not about food. It was supposed to be all about the top-notch museums that show and tell of two millennia of rich local history from the Gallo-Roman era to modern and contemporary art. But trouping around medieval cobblestone streets and futuristic museums is hungry work. Luckily I was able to time my wanderings just right to happen by the Marché Couvert around lunchtime. And it turns out, in addition to its rich displays of glorious foodstuff it has a most interesting architecture and history, for a covered market, that is.
From Palace to Market
One of the oldest and grandest in France, it was originally commissioned in 1762 from the Royal Architect by the Bishop of Metz as his new palace. Work began in 1785. But before the owner had a chance to move in, the 1789 French Revolution happened. Anyone of nobility, bishop included was well advised to lie low. Rather than let a good palace go to waste, the people of Metz decided to repurpose it into their central food hall. And here you have it, a 5,000 square meter (54,000 square foot) U-shaped neo-Classical covered market built of the local golden Jaumont limestone, adjacent to the forecourt of the Metz Cathedral.
A Soup Bar
Go up the stately staircase and walk in. Over 40 cheese mongers, butchers, greengrocers and every possible local specialty awaits along with a central food court. And that’s where I come upon Soupes a Soup’s, a soup bar with at least half a dozen kinds of thick, flavorful soupes-du-jour. The man behind the soup pots is Patrick Grumberg. With his red knitted hat and spectacular white facial hair, he looks like an understudy for Santa Claus.
Order your soup to take out or sit on a bench around the family-style table and eat in. I opt for the latter. My order arrives instantly, in an old French china plate slightly chipped for added character and filled with thick, piping hot split pea soup and a hunk of crusty country bread. It’s so filling I can’t even be tempted by the home-baked cake on offer for dessert.
You Say Potato, I Say Pomme de Terre
Another welcoming place to drop into any time of day when a serious hunger pang strikes is En Robe des Champs (French for in their jacket). This is not a fashion statement but the name of a classic French brasserie, at least in appearance. Open the menu, which is served all day, and it’s all about potatoes, baked, au gratin, mashed, prepared with a wide assortment of toppings and served with interesting salads.
I have the gratin dauphinois. With its soft, cheesy interior and perfect brown top crust, it is one of the best I’ve ever had. Meanwhile my friend enjoys a baked potato with smoked salmon. Everything is locally grown, well prepared, served promptly by the friendly staff, and hugely satisfying with a glass of crisp local Moselle wine.
The One That Got Away
It is on the last morning of my stay in Metz that I hear of Les Amis de Saint Louis (Friends of St. Louis), on the grounds of the Catholic Seminary of Metz. Originally intended to feed the seminarians, the restaurant morphed over time into a fine dining establishment, currently under the direction of up-and-coming young chef Christophe Koessler. It is open mainly for lunch. Ever the optimist, I drop by on impulse and can only glimpse covetously at the sumptuous dining room with its ornate eighteenth-century wood paneling and antique crystal chandeliers. Every single one of the white linen-clad tables is occupied by lucky diners enjoying the refined seasonal menu.
The apologetic hostess suggests that I try La Brasserie across the hall, where there may still be room. There is. The menu is casual fare but the high standards of the chef come through regardless. While not what I had hoped for, I do enjoy a delicious salmon burger on toasted brioche served with a basket of perfect French fries and a lovely chocolate tart dessert. Note to self: next time reserve as soon as I’ve purchased my train ticket to Metz.
Good to Know
- Soupes a Soup’s, soupesasoups.com is open Tuesday through Thusday from 10:00 A.M. to 6:30 P.M. and Friday and Saturday from 8:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. Contact: Email firstname.lastname@example.org .Tel: 33 (0) 6 08 31 11 04.
- En Robe des Champs is located 14 Rue Marguerite Puhl-Demange, Metz, France, and open seven days a week from 11:00 A.M. to 11:00 P.M. Tel: +33 3 87 36 32 19 .
- Les Amis de Saint Louis and adjoining Brasserie, lesamisdesaintlouis.fr, are located at 4 Avenue Jean XXIII, Metz, France and open every day 12:00 P.M. to 3:00 P.M. as well as on Friday and Saturday nights from 7:30 P.M. to 9:30 P.M. Contact: Email email@example.com , Tel: +33 (0) 3 87 75 51 71.