“Boite” in French it means “box,” but here in Austin, it means hot, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth croissants and sandwich delights; a relaxing perch on a grassy knoll; and rich, steaming hot organic coffee.
The box itself is a repurposed shipping container that partners Victoria Davies and Dan Bereczki chose after initially considering transforming one into a home. They both had corporate jobs and wanted to create something of their own. It was about this time that a multitude of food trailers sprouted up around Austin selling their fare and the idea to use a shipping container for a shop was born.
La Boîte’s design is deliberate. Victoria’s vision included a space inspired by cafes she saw while living in Australia in the late 90s. “In Sydney they have little hole-in-the-wall coffee shops and dynamic conversations started in the back and went to the front. It went from here to here to here,” she says gesturing with her hands. “That’s why I have no Wi-Fi, no tables, no internet.”
The original cafe opened in Nov. 2009 and is located on South Lamar, high on a grassy knoll (1700 S. Lamar). It overlooks busy traffic and shade sails stretch above striped butterfly chairs nestled in gravel and wooden chairs with little side tables scattered about paving stones. The cafe itself is a walk-up.
Victoria describes La Boîte as a “social pit stop” for all those as busy as herself. “I’m always in a rush,” but it’s more than that. While sitting outside for an hour four patrons stop to say hi. She asks after their dogs and lives and, with coffees clutched in their hands, they chat with her before hopping back into their cars. Dogs weave in and out of chairs as their owners make their purchases, the girl behind the counter doles out smiles like she does coffees and pastries, and mothers with small children chat while their little ones tumble headfirst down the sunny hillside. The cafe encourages movement, but invites you to stay.
There’s no doubt that La Boîte’s unique vibe fits Austin. The Downtown Alliance contacted Victoria and Dan when they heard the duo was researching a location for a second shop. The newest La Boîte, opened in October, 2011 (on 10th and Congress), is now part of a new city initiative to partner public and private entities in a pilot program designed to create revenue for parks via Austin businesses.
The box sits on wheels amid a little garden with trellises, park benches, crushed gravel and blooming lantana. Customers lounge in button-down shirts and dress pants on the steps under the sail, shirtsleeves rolled up sipping on iced coffees and nibbling on sandwiches. Surrounded by concrete buildings the orange and white box surrounded by lush greenery is a reminder of Austin’s sensitivity to and love of being different.
La Boîte is more than just a box of good energy; however, it’s also the host to delectable foods. In February of 2012 Victoria and Dan partnered with Elizabeth St. Cafe (1501 S. First Street) for their breads and pastries. “Their product was solid and the quality was a match for [our old pastry partner’s] standards,” says Victoria.
A good croissant has three things: a light, buttery, flaky crust; a soft, chewy center; and an overall rich, buttery flavor that’s soft on the palate. La Boîte knocks it out of the park by bringing Elizabeth St. Cafe on board. The ham and gruyere croissant is bliss in your mouth. Salty ham dances with tangy gruyere all wrapped in buttery, chewy, flaky goodness. It’s like seeing someone undress for the first time. You can’t believe it keeps getting better.
The cafe also offers chocolate croissants, chocolate brioche, sausage brioche, and two daily special sandwiches with one vegetarian and one meat option. You won’t find the same two sandwiches two days in a row. “Who wants the same fucking sandwich every day?” quips Victoria with a laugh. A typical day might find both roast beef and hummus options.
The sandwich bread is made with a Vietnamese baguette baked fresh daily and assembled in La Boîte’s own kitchen. The roast beef sandwich is heady and delicious without weighing you down. The spicy Fireman’s #4 mustard fills your head with spice and the provolone mellows it out. Eat half now and save the other half for later on when the 3 o’clock munchies hit or scarf it down all at once.
La Boîte also offers macaroons, naturally gluten-free, in several different flavors a day. “We try to have at least five on hand,” says Victoria, typically a fruit, an exotic, a floral, a savory, and something rich. Macaroons are one of their bestsellers and La Boîte takes special orders. “We just did a wedding where the macaroons matched the tablecloths!” says Victoria with a grin. “Our baker just loves that!”
Of her small menu Victoria says, “We don’t offer much, but what we do offer is phenomenal. I mean, that’s my goal.”
The hot beverage menu at La Boîte includes Mexican coffees and organic teas. The espresso is a Brazilian and Mexican blend. The Brazilian beans offer bright, fruity notes with no bitterness and the Mexican beans give it a rich, sensuous flavor.
If a diner would prefer something cooler, La Boîte also offers cold fare such as iced green and black teas and bottled rainwater.
La Boîte’s eco-friendliness extends to what’s inside as well. Food is locally sourced, napkins and cups are recyclable, and there are recycling and compost bins.
Prices range from $1.95 for a macaroon to $5.95 for a sandwich and gift certificates are available for the foodies in your life. Hours are 7:30-4:30(ish) Monday-Friday, and 8-4 on weekends (the Congress location is closed Saturday and Sunday).
La Boîte is the little box that could, an Austin specialty based on artisanal foods and excellent quality. “What can I say?” says Victoria. “We like butter.”
Written by Jessica Warner (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Photos by Clayton Hodges (email@example.com)