On a rainy and severely overcast Sunday on the way towards a first-time trip to New Bern, NC, I could not stop thinking about a segment I saw on “NC Weekend” about a French Bakery in Farmville. The reviewer had spoken ecstatically about its absolutely “divine” food. On a stretch of highway nearing that city, I suddenly decided I simply had to go there and sample such unbeatable fare. I would not be dissuaded by any argument about the shortness of time or the inordinately high price of gas by the rest of our crew. Convincing our driver to take a detour took some doing, but I threw all the theatrics and drama I could muster into the mix, including a bribe and a thinly veiled threat (“I won’t be making you that Indian curry you love so much anytime soon”!) Minutes later, quietly reveling in the fact that I had gotten my way (for once), we arrived at a pretty and unpretentious brick front in a historic neighborhood with the words “Café Madeleine” emblazoned decorously across its front window.
Sometimes one has the good fortune of being “right as rain” about something and stopping by this place was a case in chief -- I knew it was going to be marvelous from the get-go. Once we were seated, the owner, Coleen Starling, in a great show of personal touch, came over and explained the menu at length as well as good information about herself. An admittedly selftaught baker “with delusions of grandeur”, she opened the business almost three years ago with the intention of specializing in French pastries and other culinary items with a French accent. After visiting Farmville and falling in love with a Victorian home on its outskirts, she and her husband made the move from Raleigh with the hope of bringing big-city food to a small, tranquil town and throwing that town’s profile into a greater gastronomic relief. The business eventually found a home opposite the street from the Piggly Wiggly Market which held court over the whole neighborhood but didn’t boast a single French pastry in its store.
The Café’s menu looked plenary and pleasing to our eyes – sandwich-based lunches, salads, fruit tarts, macarons, espresso drinks, international wines replete with the option of ordering custom cakes if your mood required that. Since we arrived five minutes before closing, the vast majority of desserts were long since gone but we were regaled by the idea of a still-purchasable delight: a croissant/French Toast mixed berry compote comprised of blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries in a decadent Grand Marnier filled sauce, all topped by mountains of house-made whipped cream. Coleen assured us that she would be making this herself which somehow made the idea of consuming the creation all the more enchanting. When all three orders arrived on the table, I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry – I was overcome by the sheer visual beauty of it and spent the first couple of minutes photographing them with my camera. Whether this was a lunch item or more particularly a dessert, I do not know but I can say with unabashed enthusiasm that this might have been the best sweet thing I have eaten in my California foodie life.
At times like this, sitting in a French cafe, my mind returns to the French I heard spoken in my home by my Paris-raised mother. “Un bon repas adoucit l’esprit et regenere le corps” (a good meal softens the mind and regenerates the body, nourishing the soul). This croissant/French toast was really too good to be true. When I returned to Greensboro, I ran across the saying in a food magazine: “desserts are the sweet threads of the warp and weft of our lives” by someone named Nicolette M. Dumke. I had never heard of her, but she sure got that right! I can say without reservation that EVERYBODY needs to go to this darling little place in Farmville where everything is scratch-made and clearly prepared with bounteous shots of love. Coleen herself is a doll – chatty and warm, she contributed so much to our consumption of a delicious meal in a sweet and unprepossessing setting. Learn a lesson from my family though – don’t wait until the last minute to drop by. Café Madeleine is open Thursday–Saturday from 8:00 am – 3 p.m. and on Sunday from 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Be at the ready to buy anything there since everything is simply so yummy, and please (if you will) spread the word about this wonderful establishment in Farmville which delivers some French delight in every bite.