Let’s talk French. Not really, because I can’t speak French, so let’s just talk about Mon Petit Choux. This French café and bakery is in the heart of downtown Nanaimo on the corner of Commercial St. and Wharf St.—a wedge of Paris in our cultural hub.  There are a lot of cafés downtown, but this one sets itself apart for students because it’s large enough to loiter a bit. That’s not to say they encourage people sitting around, but with free Wi-Fi and plenty of outlets for my laptop, homework came naturally after lunch.

The space is flooded with light from walls of windows, complementing the bold baroque décor. The floor is speckled red, while the upholstery is cornflower blue with gold and brass accents, and there are marble tabletops. The café appears rich and elaborate, but the friendly servers give it a down-to-earth vibe. It’s hard not to get lost people-watching through the windows. The owner often works front of house, making sure her customers are happy. She also seems to allow anyone with a poster or pamphlet to tape it on the wall or leave it on the window ledge, so it’s an excellent spot to discover what events are happening in the community.

Mon Petit Choux uses locally grown and organic products. Their breads and pastries are fresh-baked every morning and often sell out by noon. Their soups are also made fresh daily. Their small menu features fancy-sounding brunch and lunch items that are seasonal, where possible, to make the most of fresh, local products.

I always order the smoked salmon on scrambled eggs because it comes topped with fresh cream and capers. It’s served with generous side dishes: a baguette with fresh preserves, fruit, and rosti (a hashbrown patty). It’s a filling and healthy dish with a delicate balance of flavours. And for less than $10, it’s friendly to the student budget. The menu is priced competitively with the larger chain cafés even though Mon Petit Choux features fresh local products, something that restaurants often use as an excuse to charge more.

Vancouver Island’s Drumroaster Coffee company supplies their coffee. A regular cup is priced slightly higher than average shops (medium $2.25), but prices for other drinks are typical (medium mocha $4.25). It was properly bitter, and I was pleasantly surprised by the latte art and decorative sprinkling of cocoa. The size was impressive, and the texture was thick. Although the flavour wasn’t as strong as I’d like, the caffeine buzz more than compensated. It was a nice complement to my meal.

Mon Petit Choux is a good destination for an elegant, healthy lunch, with a side of inspiration when you need to finish a writing assignment.

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