Light streams across the white-tiled bistro tables festooned with pink and green flowers. A jazzy red fabric covers the walls, invoking the optimism of the Belle Epoque era. It’s a sunlit Sunday afternoon, and I’m chatting with Chef Jacques Haeringer at his namesake restaurant Jacques Brasserie. He tells me the restaurant is inspired by the weinstuben, or cozy wine bars of Alsace, France where his family is from.
The brasserie is located on the lower level of the iconic L’Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls, Virginia, which after 44 years of accolades, continues to attract a steady stream of both regulars and guests celebrating special occasions. But Jacques Brasserie is more accessible and less expensive. The eatery’s attracting new diners who want to explore the French classics with options, such as terrace dining, bar food, cocktails and brunch. In other words, it’s designed for customers who relish old school glamour and authentic European flair, but don’t want to sit for a three-hour meal.
When I ask about the Jacques Brasserie menu, Haeringer jokes in his signature frankness, “French is back. And this whole place is unabashedly, unapologetically the classics. If you want something else, go somewhere else. This is what we‘re known for.”
Making DC History with Old School Style
Back in 1954, Jacques’s father, Francois Haeringer had a very popular French restaurant a few blocks from the White House. When the building was set for reconstruction, Francois decided to chase his dream of owning a French country outpost in the D.C. Area. He purchased six acres in a rural Northern Virginia, surrounded by mansions, farmland and forests. In 1976, Francois reintroduced his signature menu of traditional French dishes like Chateaubriand and Coquille Saint Jacques, and soon L’Auberge Chez Francois became a destination restaurant, drawing accolades from critics, presidents and celebrities alike (check out the picture of canine movie star Lassie eating on the restaurant’s patio).
After Francois’s death, his sons took over the restaurant, and continued to honor their father’s legacy and his approach to dining. I asked Jacques about their relationship, and he answered, “My father and I used to spar all the time. I used to say ‘That old dish again,’ and he’d say, ‘Hey, people want it, what do you want me to do?’ Today, it’s pretty much what we’ve always done with some new things. Dad was right. The older I get, the smarter he gets.”
Jacques Brasserie is adorned in Haeringer family heirlooms like Francois’s line drawings of Alsace and a collection of antique wine spigots. The view from the restaurant is a heated terrace and two gardens where the kitchen staff sources seasonal ingredients. ‘“We do have specials every day, especially when the weather is warm,” says Haeringer. “We’ve expanded the gardens and have tented events out there like weddings and Bar Mitvahs.”
Relishing Every Bite of the French Classics
Seated at a table by the window, my daughter and I look over the lunch and brunch menus. While we are deciding, a basket of fresh bread appears with salted butter and pot of Bibeleskais, the Brasserie’s housemade cottage cheese with herbs. We also receive two perfect croissants to delivered warm from the oven. It’s a struggle not to eat every bite.
We ask our server Eric what he recommends, and he says his favorite dish is Crepe a la Ciboulette, a fluffy herb-flavored crepe draped over a wild mushrooms finely chopped and sautéed with shallots, butter and salt. The dish is served with tomato concassé, truffle sauce and haricot verts. He also suggests the house delicacy, La Cassolette de Joues de Boeuf, or braised Wagyu beef cheeks, served in a miniature cast iron pot, with mushrooms, potatoes and yellow beets in a sherry wine sauce. Both dishes are hearty starters that can be shared if you’re saving room for dessert. Which you should.
For an entree, we decide to go with surf and turf. My daughter orders the restaurant’s famous Beef Bourguignon, served on a creamy nest of spaetzle beside a mélange of organic vegetables
including carrots, beets and haricots verts. The dish transports us to the Alsace, where French cuisine is heavily influenced by neighboring Germany. For surf, I try “Papa’s Bouillabaisse,” which arrives in a steel pot overflowing with salmon, sea bass, scallops, shrimp, mussels and a lobster claw, all bathed in an incredibly fragrant saffron broth. I can’t help but slurp up every drop with my leftover bread.
Eric urges us to order the soufflé which requires 30-minutes of advance preparation. Despite the richness of the white and dark chocolate sauce he trickles inside the soufflé—a pillow of caramelized crust and eggy custard—we manage to devour the divine creation. When Eric comes back to check, there’s not a spoonful left.
The Main Event and More
I ask Haeringer if the restaurant is always this busy on a Sunday in winter? He says, yes, but Jacques Brasserie also does a brisk happy hour business, and the new Brunch menu has been a big draw. Diners arrive in all kinds of attire, from business casual, to post-hiker comfort. When the patio is open, Haeringer says people come to drink Virginia wines and craft beer. “We grow hops for Lost Rhino Brewery’s Papa’s Pilsner. It has my dad’s profile on the tap. And we sell the third most Virginia wines of any restaurant in the state.”
Yes, it looks like French is back, and now you can take Uber down these winding roads to experience an icon. Check the restaurant’s schedule of special events—culinary demonstrations, full moon parties, and their Musique de Cuisine series—and bon appetit!
332 Springvale Rd
Great Falls, VA 22066