Opening a restaurant was a dream of Emilie Cellai’s ever since she was six years old. Growing up in Marseille, France, she attended culinary school at 15 and has been in the food business ever since. She met her husband, Ben Johnson, at Sofitel Hotel in Bloomington. Last year the pair realized their long-time dream come true. Next week, Le Town Talk French Diner & Drinkery will celebrate its one-year anniversary with a special menu of the same beloved French dishes that have made it such a success.
Along with chef Ozzy Amelotti, Cellai recreates the beloved dishes she grew up with in Southern France and often utilizes her mother and grandmother’s recipes, with her own twist. Familiar French dishes like Croque Monsieur, Nicoise salad and delicate crepes have been big hits, as have the burgers and flat breads have drawn ardent fans.
"We serve French comfort food," she said. "It’s not expensive or complicated."
One of the challenges in the past year has been to convince the public that French food does not have to be overly elaborate or intimidating. The dark wood and crimson velvet panels on the walls are inviting and warm, while the large windows let the sun stream in for the recently added lunch service. Glassware gleams on the marble bar top, surrounded with the original red vinyl stools which remain from this address' historic past.
Cellai emphasizes that families are welcome at Le Talk Diner, and the adorable illustrations of the Eiffel Tower created by visiting children and tacked onto the walls are a reflection of that message. This is a space fit for large groups, intimate dinners, and families alike. Late night becomes more about the gorgeous, counter bar, where patrons can saddle up for a cocktail. "We wanted to make everything accessible," Cellai said. "Our cocktails are mostly around $7-$8 and our highest entree is around $20."
Johnson agrees. "This is not fancy food, there is no need for reservations," he reiterates. "We focus on integrity of ingredients; on simple, affordable French food for everyone."
"We find that once people come in, they realize it’s accessible and unpretentious and delicious food and they come in often," she explained. "We had regulars within a month or two of opening. The support from the neighborhood has been over whelming."
Cellai and Johnson have spent the past year figuring out how to please their customers. They added the lunch service in April, as well as a patio created by artist Seitu Jones and graffiti artist Jordan Hamilton. They hope to launch a boxed lunch catering service soon.
To toast Le Town Talk stop in for the special dinner menu September 22 through 26.