Hops, Skitch and a Jump

The Brasserie L’Oustau style and menu, explained in an earlier article, can be traced to ancient French breweries; the proprietors would have developed menus to serve customers sampling the beer – the “Hops” in the title of this article.

The “Skitch” refers to the Brasserie L’Oustau bar itself which had been owned by reknowned musician and composer Skitch Henderson in New York City. Although the address or business name can’t be confirmed, the bar was purchased at auction in the late 1980s by the family who constructed our building, thus making the “Jump” to Vermont. Word creativity aside, the bar is one of the more salient features of Brasserie L’Oustau and fully dominates the eastern half of the restaurant’s interior.

Skitch Henderson came to visit his relocated bar before his death in 2005.

The handsome mahogany bar features three tall backboard mirrors separated and framed by stained glass oval sconces, and the carving details are bold enough to be noticed but not distract from its expansive top. It is truly a beautifully balanced piece of furniture.

The wood has been maintained and repaired over the years but it has not been refinished and retains its antique character and proof of years of appreciation. We look forward to adding many more years of appreciation and would love your help.

A detail of the base of the bar and brass foot rail.


A Napkin is Very Intimate

It sits on your lap, touches your mouth and greets your greasy fingers with abundant appetite. A linen napkin is soft and pure and willing to embrace and forgive; its whole purpose is to absorb your every gastronomic misdirection, absolve you and hold all evidence on a folded square of fabric then removed.

If you’ve never considered cloth napkins before perhaps now you can; the quality of your dining experience really does depend on them.

Even before you sit at a restaurant table the napkin influences the impression you have of what is to come. The napkin may be folded like a swan gliding on a plate-lake in one restaurant, a tulip bursting from a water glass vase in the next, or lightly nesting the flatware in a simple fold in yet another.


Glassware, linen and tableware – silverware, candle, salt and pepper, etcetera – are all an indication of the type of meal to come. Casual dining might have paper napkins around a simple fork and knife on a bare table; fine dining could poise soft linen in tall stemware at place settings of 6 or more pieces. In all cases your expectations of the meal begin with the napkin.

Brasserie L’Oustau folds its linen napkins simply to reflect the casual and respectful spirit of the brasserie. We take you to the table where you will settle and easily enjoy your dinner and our hospitality. There is no pretense or posturing about our brasserie experience and the simple napkin fold indicates you are at a comfortable restaurant with good food, service and community.


The simple fold of the linen napkins at Brasserie L’Oustau make it easy for diners to settle themselves and continue on to their biggest challenge: deciding what to order from our extensive menu.

There is one exception to our “keep it simple” paradigm; the bread basket nestles sliced baguettes on linen with an “artichoke” fold. Sometimes we like to shake things up a bit.


Waiter! There’s a Dog In My Soup!

Many travelers to France would confirm they’ve seen dogs practically eat off the plates in restaurants throughout the country, but dogs in the US are almost never found inside restaurants. Surely Americans care about their dogs as much as the French, but is our anxiety about germs the cause or is there something else that keeps our pooches locked in the car or at home while we are dining out?


Ella was allowed in the restaurant for this photo shoot on a day we were closed. A woman, thinking we were open, entered to have lunch and under her arm was a beautiful long-haired dachshund! It happened that she was visiting from France.

Both countries prohibit animals inside restaurants by law; only service animals can legally enter any restaurant. You might find a hand-bag-sized pooch on a diner’s lap discretely taking bits of food by hand, sometimes large dogs snooze below a table or keep watch at the door, but it is always at the discretion of the restaurant owner who would face fines if discovered by law enforcement. Restaurant owners in France are more lenient to allow dogs at the inside tables, but it is as illegal there as it is in the US.

Blame it on the local health ordinances. Or if you prefer, give credit to the local health ordinances. Although a clean and well-trained dog might be welcome in most places, an untrained dog can cause too many safety and hygiene problems in areas that are crowded with customers and their food, and at times even a well-trained dog can become unruly in a busy and noisy place. More restaurants in France are starting to prohibit dogs inside perhaps for the same reasons as in the States; a serious problem is more likely to occur or a customer to complain when a dog is involved.

In France and many areas of the US dogs are legally allowed at outdoor dining tables if the restaurant owner agrees to it and only if the tables are accessible without passing inside. Brasserie L’Oustau is fortunate to be in an area of Vermont where we can welcome dogs to all our outdoor tables, provide them with a bit of shade and a dish of water, and send them on their way with a home-made organic Bon-Bones™ treat! So be sure to bring your “Fifi” or “Olivier” when you come to enjoy a thoroughly French meal on the terrace at Brasserie L’Oustau.


Bistro. Café. Brasserie!

There are three main styles of French restaurants but the bistro and café are perhaps most familiar to Americans. Images or memories of intimate rooms with tables for two, mottled mirrors reflecting bottles at the bar and walls displaying framed pictures of Parisian streetscapes or French travel posters may come to mind. The food served could be simple or fussy, hardy or light, moderately priced or expensive, and almost always with some sort of Continental influence. The cafés would feature the less expensive foods, perhaps not serve any alcohol and usually make excellent coffee.

Then there’s the brasserie. When we built Brasserie L’Oustau in late 2011 we found many people were unfamiliar with the brasserie restaurant. (The best way to pronounce it would be to say the woman’s undergarment plus a type of horse-drawn carriage: bra + surrey.) To be sure, a brasserie is as original to France as a bistro or café but it is also very unique and well-defined. There are few authentic brasseries in America, and we are one of them; we have had world-traveling customers tell us our design and menu are the closest to a traditional Paris or New York brasserie that they’ve ever seen, and this is our greatest compliment.

A Bit of History: The French word “brasser” translates as the verb “to brew” which gives you insight to how the brasserie originated. In villages throughout France the local brewery is a most important member of the business community and well supported by the citizens. A restaurant inside a brewery is a natural development.

Beer casks of oak.

I imagine a summer lunch break or walking home after a full day of agricultural work sometime in the early 1800’s  when the men and women longed for a relaxing draught of beer and a moment of socializing. They might enter the village’s cool and lofty brewery to sidle up to a counter where the proprietors would swiftly offer a taste of the most recent tap. One glass, two perhaps, and food might be the next request. But these proprietors were brewers, not restaurateurs. The food provided would be simple family fare from the region, familiar to all their customers and easy for the owners to prepare and keep for spontaneous requests. The brasserie restaurant would serve foods like paté and cured meats, cheese boards with bread, confit, long-simmering soups and fresh salad greens from the house gardens. The dishes would be hearty, affordable and familiar. The ambiance is relaxed, a bit noisy from clattering plates and mugs, and everyone is enjoying themselves.

The interior design of Brasserie L’Oustau is simultaneously grand, warm, comfortable and inviting.

At Brasserie L’Oustau we aspire to define and interpret the essence of a French brasserie here in rural Vermont. After searching for many months, we were fortunate to find a building which could have easily fit many large beer casks, and it had already been operating as a restaurant for more than 20 years. After two months’ renovation, we had transformed an American pizza and barbeque restaurant into our French brasserie with a vast bar, tile floors, brass railings, banquettes, large mirrors, warm hues of gold and chocolate brown and an extensive list of beers to complete our full drink menu. There will be articles about some of these details but be assured they are all ubiquitous to a brasserie.

Our menu reflects the traditional fare of French brasseries, and many of these dishes will be discussed as we tend to this blog. The current menus can be viewed on our website where you might find a brandade de morue or steak tatare appetizer (featured in the previous article), warm duck confit salad or moules frites — all familiar to today’s brasserie menu.

Not the least important, serving staff at Brasserie L’Oustau are trained in the classic French service paradigm and wear the traditional uniforms of white shirts, black ties and vests, and floor-length white aprons. The training requires strict attention and takes many hours to complete, but we insist on maintaining a high level of service for our customers’ needs. This may not have been true for the first brasseries in France, but breaking with tradition in this way is a good thing.

Time to Clock It

When you enter many of the brasseries in France you’ll be faced with a clock. A big, old clock. Think about it…. How many American restaurants are expected to have a clock included in their décor?

When Brasserie L’Oustau was in the planning stages and the interior design was developing, owner Michel pointed out it MUST have a clock or else it wouldn’t have the complete ambiance of a brasserie. We needed to find the right clock and then place it in the right location. All of the Americans on the team looked quizzically at one another, and then began to do the homework necessary to find and place a Brasserie L’Oustau clock in the design plan.

But really, why must there be a clock in a brasserie at all?

The first brasseries in rural France hundreds of years ago might have needed a clock for the lunch customers to know it was time to return to labor. Or in the evening, as the beer began to affect the customers’ motivation to go home, the clock could have been a reminder that the brasserie would close. We can only suppose why, or even if, there might have been a clock in a brasserie so long ago.

However, the quick food and service style of the French brasseries permitted them to succeed in the developing towns and cities where the pace of life restricted meal time. Patrons would need to see the time and how much of it they had before they should be somewhere else, and so a clock was installed by the proprietors as a courtesy to their customers. You might find a Parisian brasserie nearby a train or Metro station, and the clock is easily seen from every seat.

Brasseries came about well before anyone could see the time on their wrist watch or cell phone, and that’s why there is a clock in our brasserie and most others. Perhaps we can thank the watch and cell phone for allowing us to place the clock in the entry to Brasserie L’Oustau where customers can’t see it while they’re dining.