There are some life experiences that we know we pay too much for, but we do them anyway. Disney tickets. That gondola ride in Venice. College. To that list, add an omelette at La Mère Poulard, the famous – and famously expensive – restaurant on France’s Mont Saint Michel, the island monastery that rises like a mirage out of the sea in the far southwestern corner of Normandy.
The Mont is one of France’s most visited attractions, with millions of tourists per year walking or taking shuttle buses across the raised causeway connecting the Mont to the mainland, 1 mile away. People have lived on the Mont since at least the 700s; most current buildings date to the 1400s, and are built in the half-timber and stone style typical of Medieval Normandy. Up until a few years ago, the Mont was only reachable via a low-lying road that flooded during high tides, cutting the island off from the mainland—a phenomenon which added to the mystery and romance of the place.
The only real “thing” to see on the island is the Mont Saint Michel Abbey, the stunning Gothic-Romanesque complex at the top of the Mont, which has sections dating to the 11th century. As much as anything, the real reason to come to Mont Saint Michel is just to soak up the ambiance of arguably one of the most unique and beautiful settings in the world.
When visitors to the Mont enter the first of two narrow stone gates to access La Grande Rue, the island’s main street, the first things they see are the cheerful red awning and window frames of La Mère Poulard. The establishment was founded in 1888, when La Mère herself, Madame Annette Poulard, started whipping up omelettes for hungry travelers visiting the Mont.
On an island often cut off from deliveries of food from the mainland, chickens – and more specifically, their eggs – didn’t have to be imported. So impromptu omelettes soon became a thing at La Mère Poulard, and over the decades, the simple inn grew into an island institution almost as famous as the abbey itself.
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Just inside the door of La Mère Poulard, guests are greeted with what could easily be a vignette from a living history museum: In a rustic kitchen, a team of red-smocked cooks in poufy black hats beats eggs into a froth, as another cook tends a roaring hearth, deftly shifting shallow pans of whisked eggs over the fire until they rise to perfectly formed soufflé-style omelettes.
The rhythmic thwack thwack thwack of metal whisks against battered copper bowls is mesmerizing, as is watching the cadence with which the group works. The kitchen itself has checkered red and white curtains, mismatched floor tiles, that mighty stone hearth, and dented copper pots and bowls hung on every available wall surface.
Madame Poulard had a captive audience when the tide would roll in and trap visitors on the Mont for hours at a time. If her prices and quality didn’t reflect that in 1888, they certainly do in the 21st century. The cheapest omelette on the menu is €34 and it comes with no filling – it’s just beaten, cooked eggs, with, as I can attest, no salt.
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If you order a filled omelette, it’s more like an accompanied omelette, with a pile of sautéed mushrooms, vegetables, bacon or smoked salmon on the side. The most expensive omelettes top out at €38 and come with a side of either scallops or foie gras. Add to this €9 bottles of San Pellegrino and €6 espressos (don’t even get me started on the wine list) and it’s nearly impossible to ring out at less than €50 per person.
All that said, the omelettes at La Mère Poulard are spectacular – to look at. They are massive, and so light and fluffy that they’re almost foamy in consistency, browned over the fire and practically quivering when set before you. That they are banal from the first bite shouldn’t really matter, right, since it’s all about the experience? If the recipe hasn’t changed since the Belle Époque, then those pilgrims to the Mont must have been really hungry – or maybe standards were just lower back then.
There are some absolutes to bear in mind when you visit Mont Saint Michel. If you choose to spend the night in one of the handful of hotels here, you will pay too much for your room. If you choose to eat at La Mère Poulard, you will pay too much for your breakfast. That’s as sure a thing as an overpriced gondola ride, a $3 bottled water at Disney World, or that $90 textbook you drooled on as you slept through Intro to Art History class (where the professor probably shared photos of his trip to Mont Saint Michel).
The experience of eating a legendary omelette in one of the world’s more ethereal, iconic settings? Worth it. At least, probably. Maybe. OK, you’re just gonna have to go and decide for yourself on this one.