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L'Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls Goes Casual

Culinary institution opens a downstairs space for more relaxed dining.

The venerable L’Auberge Chez Francois,  one of the longest-running and best-known special occasion restaurants in the Washington area, has revealed its casual side.

The Great Falls restaurant, known for its classic French food, elegant dining rooms and airy patio, has opened a small space in its downstairs area with a different purpose and feel.

The menu is simpler, the décor more relaxed. There are no tablecloths and no reservations. The restaurant calls the space a “Brasserie,” a French word that generally refers to a casual-but-upscale eatery.

Paul Haeringer, general manager of L’Auberge Chez Francois, says his brother Jacques, the restaurant’s head chef, came up with the idea while traveling in the Alsace region of France.

“There the brasseries are very popular, a lot of the big restaurants have them,” Haeringer explains. “He enjoyed it, and thought maybe we could try something like that here.”

But there is another reason, too, Haeringer says. The brothers are proud of the fact that the restaurant founded by their father, Francois, is a “destination restaurant” that draws diners from all over the region and beyond. But they also love the local community that embraced their father and their family from the time Francois moved his restaurant from downtown Washington to Great Falls in 1976.

“We wanted local clientele to be able to pop in for a quick bite to eat or a glass of wine,” Haeringer says. “It gives people an opportunity to have a different experience than upstairs.”

Some of the differences between the Brasserie and the main restaurant:

  • The Brasserie menu, while offering some of the same dishes served in the main restaurant, is a la carte. You can order one dish, while dinner upstairs is served pre fixe, meaning it is ordered as an entire meal.
  • The Brasserie has late afternoon and evening hours only. It is not open for lunch.
  • It offers a few special dishes not available upstairs, including tartes flambees, an Alsatian specialty that is a bit like a pizza with a delicate crust.
  • You can stay for less than hour, while a meal upstairs is likely to be a much longer affair.

“You never know when you try something new, how it is going to work out,” Haeringer says. “But we’ve been packed many nights, and we couldn’t ask for better than that.”

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