Comfort Food, French Style

Café Felix brings a bistro ‘A’ game to A2

Sometimes when it’s a chilly, rainy night on the cold streets of Ann Arbor, you need the comfort of a nice French bistro: the gleam of brass, warm conversations, laughter, a perfect bar, the pop of champagne, and the aroma of real-deal French bistro food. You shake off your umbrella and sigh: You are at Café Felix.

Café Felix has been a fixture on Main Street since 1997. In other cities that might mean a tired joint with unchanged décor and stained menus. Not in Ann Arbor, where rents are high and restaurants need to bring their “A” game to keep the kitchen humming.

Even on a wet Wednesday night the crowd at Café Felix was lively. Our party nosed through to be seated at a table under a painting of a portly gent nursing a cigarette and glass of red wine. He seemed to say, “Just relax, monsieur, you’re home now. Oh! And no flat-screen TVs, so you can converse like the true French.”

We started with classic French aperitifs and intelligently mixed cocktails with names like “Brotherhood.” This went down with an order of light, lemony calamari. On cold nights soup is a must; the superb tomato bisque brought some peppery heat, while a Bistro Salade came with candied pecans and generous amounts of creamy blue cheese.

One main course was gnocchi with Asiago cheese; a close-your-eyes bit of comfort-food perfection — feathery light gnocchi with a mix of fragrant cheese, wild mushrooms, and veggies.

Café Felix offers four pizzas, including a Marguerite pizza that was crisp and warm with oozy mozzarella. Of course, the quintessential French bistro dish — beef steak avec frites — had to be ordered. With a French flourish, an effortlessly seared hanger steak arrived surrounded by french fries so good we had to keep the neighboring table from reaching for samples.

Desserts followed with a traditional chocolate mousse and an untraditional espresso crème brûleé with freshly made doughnuts and caramel and raspberry sauce — a Café Felix riff on “coffee and doughnuts” but without exaggeration, a million times better.

The gentleman in the painting above our table nodded, “Oui, monsieur, that’s what I’m talking about.”

204 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-662-8650. L & D daily, Br. Sun.