Mention Alsace in France and invariably you’ll hear: “One eats and drinks well in Alsace.”
It’s true. Notable, modestly priced coups de cœur—instant personal favorite restaurants—abound. They reflect an unique mix of French, German and Swiss cultures while relying on the glorious bounty of regional products coming Alsace’s diverse soils and remarkably dry, sunny climate.
In city of Colmar, the beating heart of Alsace’s winegrowing region, locals and visitors flock to Brasserie l’Auberge in the Grand Hôtel Bistrol. With a backdrop of high ceilings, twinkling chandeliers and colorful murals depicting the nearby Vosges Mountains, the engaging, prompt servers create a bustling, warm ambiance. A glass of delicious, dry Alsace sparkling wine sets a relaxed, festive tone while whetting the appetite. Try the Cave de Rbibeauvillé, Giersberger Brut, Crémant d’Alsace, a frothy, beautifully balanced wine made by Alsace’s oldest quality-oriented cooperative from hand-picked Pinot Blanc grapes.
A classic main dish, Poulet à l’alsacienne (succulent local chicken with shallots and mushrooms in white wine and cream sauce) matches well with the dry, mineral laden Domaine Schoffit, Tradition Riesling, Lieu-Dit Harth. Jarret du porc (ham hocks slowly cooked in a broth of herbs and spices) served with sauteed potatoes and sinus-clearing horseradish pairs beautifully with the floral, fruity and refreshing Famille Hugel “Gentil,” a six grape white blend. The list also features outstanding Alsace reds including the fruity, fresh and superbly balanced Domaine Valentin-Zusslin, Pinot Noir, Bollenberg from biodynamic grapes.
Just outside of Colmar in Ingershem, Charles and Monique Guggenbuhl opened La Taverne Alsacienne in 1964, the year of current chef Jean-Philippe Guggenbuhl’s birth.
“I spent a lot of time growing up with my great aunt in the mountains,” Guggenbuhl says. “I learned about living with and respecting nature’s changing seasons. Now, we use local, seasonal products as much as possible in our menus.”
He maintains traditional favorites, such as La Cassolette d’escargots à la crème de Riesling (snails in riesling cream sauce) and Choucroute traditionnelle à l’Alsacienne (sauerkraut made with goose fat and diverse pork cuts). In the photo, Robert and Pat Thompson enjoy the Choucroute with the ripe, exotic, yet refreshing flavors of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Clos Windsbuhl Gewurztraminer. The masterful Olivier Humbrecht, M.W. makes the wine from grapes grown biodynamically on Muschelkalk limestone.
Guggenbuhl procures fresh fish “right off the trawler” from Rungis market in Paris. The Lotte à l’Armoricaine—monkfish slowly cooked with tomatoes, shallots, cognac and saffron, a spice produced by Alsace artisans since medieval times—has tender, juicy texture and exotic flavors. It pairs marvelously with the Domaine Rolly Gassmann Pflaenzerreben Riesling de Rohrschwih, a biodynamic, exhilarating wine with racy minerality and transparent fruit.
North of Colmar in the village of Bergheim, Chef Patrick and Antje Schneider meld culinary and wine passions at Wistub du Sommelier. As pictured at beginning of this post, the dining room’s wood paneling and charming, comfortable ambiance recalls a traditional winegrower’s home, but with modern touches.
Chef Schneider’s tempting terroir-driven menus inventively incorporate regional favorites such as foie gras, tête de veau and boudin noir sausages. The wine list — selected by Antje — features accomplished terroir-focused Alsace producers. They include Bergheim’s own Domaine Gustave Lorentz and local organic/biodynamic growers Domaine Sylvie Spielmann and Domaine Marcel Deiss.
“We like to use local, seasonal products such as freshwater fish, sauerkraut, potatoes, onions, asparagus and strawberries for the quality and flavors,” says Alsace-born Chef Schneider. His wife comes from Baden-Württemberg, Germany.
For Wistub du Sommelier’s delicious, trademark Presskopf made in the fashion of grand-mère, Chef Schneider seasons and slowly cooks pork head meat in stock to create a pressed aspic. Slices of this tender delicacy pair perfectly with the Domaine Emile Beyer, Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling, a delicious dry white crafted by 14th generation winegrower Christian Beyer with marvelous acidity balancing ripe, transparent citrus fruit.
La Nouvelle Auberge in Wihr-au-Val, occupies a former postal hotel along the old route between Colmer and Munster. On the top floor, Chef Bernard Leray’s main restaurant maintains a well-earned Michelin Guide star. On the ground floor, the snug and convivial “Le Bistrot” offers a casual lunch just around the corner from the chef’s kitchen.
Leray makes everything fresh from ingredients from the surrounding valley including the famous Munster cheese. Try the Terrine Maison with shallot chutney with the Domaine Barmès-Buecher, Pinot Noir Réserve and the Quenelles de foie with sauteed potatoes with the Domaine Josmeyer Pinot Gris “1854 Fondation.”. Both wines are beautiful, biodynamic gems.
North of Colmar about halfway to Strasbourg, Restaurant Château d’Andlau near the medieval village of Andlau offers a serene, sylvan setting along with delicious food and an expansive wine list. Wine highlights include Domaine Rémy Gresser’s scintillating, steely selections from nearby vineyards such as Grand Cru Kastelberg with distinct slate soils and Kritt Lieu-Dit with gravelly soils. Restaurant Château d’Andlau’s sommeliers provide expert advice in navigating the intriguing, well-priced wine list.