Bizalion’s Is Le Source for Pluperfect Picnics
A humble ham-and-cheese sandwich does not sound like picnic fare fit for Tanglewood, unless it comes from Bizalion’s, a cafe and charcuterie in Great Barrington. Jean-Francois Bizalion, who grew up in France, creates sandwiches that are unapologetically un-American. On a crusty baguette made daily by a baker in Pittsfield, he spreads sweet butter with a few whisper thin slices of jambon and gruyère and slivers of cornichons. To my mind, the sandwich always seems to taste better when you get it to go and it’s been wrapped in white butcher’s paper so when you open it you feel like you’ve given yourself a gift.
All of the sandwiches (such as pâté maison, salami, avocado and brie) are equally understated and deeply satisfying. Jean-Francois is a stickler for ingredients, which reminds you why France was historically considered the culinary capital of the world. “The picnic tradition in France goes back to the early 19th century,” he says. “Think of Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe.” Bizalion’s offerings are well edited because Jean-Francois likes to sell only what he knows how to make perfectly like pain au chocolat, quiche Lorraine made with locally raised bacon, or a mustardy vinaigrette that’s an old family recipe.
Bizalion’s is an old-fashioned family business with an unlikely pedigree. Before Jean-Francois and his wife, Helen, moved to the Berkshires, he was a fashion editor in New York City. Now, he and Helen live in Sheffield with their daughters (Isabelle, 5, and Anouk, 3) and his children from his first marriage (Julien, 21, and Chloe, 16) often work in the store on weekends. Almost five-years-old, Bizalion’s has succeeded despite its awkward location in Great Barrington between a Mobil station and a cemetary. “Lunch has really taken off which was not part of the plan,” he says. There are a few small cafe tables, but it’s the long communal table that gives Bizalion’s the air of an expatriates’ salon where all are welcome. “People tend to shop more after they’ve eaten lunch, it seems to open their appetites,” notes Francois, pointing to his innovative olive oil bar where you can taste before filling a decanter with oil from Turkey, Lebanon, Italy or Greece. (If you go for breakfast, you must order his incomparable fried egg, which, and I don’t exaggerate, verges on being a work of art.) Now that he’s firmly rooted in the community, Jean-Francois is making more local food connections, and he often has a stand at the Sheffield Farmers’ Market. He’s carrying “exquisite” free range chickens from Wolfe Spring Farm in Sheffield and he’s having Chubby Bunny Farm in Falls Village raise a pig for him, which he’ll use to make rillettes, bacon and prosciutto—all wonderful fillings for future sandwiches.
684 Main Street; 413.644.9988
Tuesday - Friday 8 - 5:30 ; Saturday 9:30 - 5:30; Sunday 9 - 4