Meals at Le Garet are an unfailing pleasure, and each one is a little different. This small, dark, bric-a-brac-filled bouchon (traditional bistro) on a narrow side street in downtown Lyon is a place I first went as a college student with a friend. We were backpacking kids who spoke terrible French, but our welcome was as warm as the one bestowed on the prosperous businesspeople who made up a majority of the diners.
We were backpacking kids who spoke terrible French, but our welcome was as warm as the one bestowed on the prosperous businesspeople who made up a majority of the diners.
The waitress came to take our order and suggested we try “tablier de sapeur,” a dish neither of us had ever heard of and which we translated from a pocket dictionary into the incomprehensible “fireman’s apron.” What could it be? Anyhow, I decided to take a chance on the unknown specialty. When a large, thin square of something arrived, in an appealing crust of bread crumbs with some sauce ravigote (a sort of herby mayonnaise), it looked rather good, like a French version of Wiener schnitzel. It was very chewy, though, and even after eating half of it, I still hadn’t a clue as to what it might be. That’s when a slightly inebriated man from the large table next to us intervened. “Bravo, les Américains, bravo!” he said, congratulating us for we knew not what. Then another well-wined gent explained in English: “It’s tripe, and the name comes from the rubber-coated canvas aprons firemen in France used to wear.” Doubtless seeing my expression, he poured us generous glasses of the Armagnac he and his companion were drinking, and after a lot of chatter, we wandered off into the night in high spirits.
Eating in a bouchon, you see, is as much about conviviality as it is the food. These places are profoundly French, profoundly happy and innately communal. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a quiet meal on your own, but to do so is to miss the point. Which is how, on my recent visit, I ended up sharing my table with a chatty and very jolly priest. After a lunch of salade Lyonnaise (curly endive with croutons, chunks of bacon and a coddled egg), quenelles de brochet (fluffy pike dumplings in a crayfish sauce), cervelle de canut (a fresh creamy cheese seasoned with shallots, garlic, herbs and olive oil), and finally a scoop of cassis sorbet drowned in a generous pour of Marc de Bourgogne, the priest walked me to a cabstand and gestured at the church across the street. “If you ever have anything you need to confess, you know where to find me,” he said.
7 Rue du Garet. Tel. (33) 4-78-28-16-94