The salade pastilla de poulet at the Café du Marché on the Rue de Bretagne in the Upper Marais.
A wave of Americophilia seems to have hit Paris lately. Every restaurant popular with thirtyish trendies now has a hamburger (pronounced “am-boor-gur”) on the menu, and it’s not the French version (a chopped-steak patty served with no bun and a fried egg on top, which is actually quite tasty) that used to trick American tourists who were craving a taste of home. Nowadays they are serving up a pretty authentic version of the original, usually with an imitation McDonald’s special sauce made with ketchup and mayonnaise.
The quality of these burgers varies widely, but some of these places are starting to get the hang of it, so if you need your burger fix, it’s worth giving them a try. Personally, I have found none that beats the always-reliable bacon-cheeseburger served at Joe Allen, a place I find comforting because it never changes. It’s spacious, so you can usually get a table without reserving; it stays open late; the servers are always friendly and efficient young foreigners of both sexes who are learning French; the tables are set with real tablecloths and napkins; the ambiance is lively; and the decor is always the same (red brick, wood, theater posters and celebrity photos). Their burger is made with quality ingredients and properly served with slices of sweet onion, tomato and dill pickles. The French fries are hot and homemade, not those awful cottony frozen ones many places serve.
An American practice that has been around in Paris for a while but is taking on new trendiness is brunch on Sunday. The French have an unusual idea of brunch, however: it is usually overpriced at around €20 and consists of a strange smorgasbord of dishes and drinks: fruit juice, coffee, pancakes or French toast (pain perdu in French), salad, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and dessert, with slight variations from place to place. (Once, at the super-trendy, always-packed Chez Prune on the Canal Saint Martin, one of my brunch companions was served a thimbleful of scrambled eggs. “What is this?” he asked. “A quarter of an egg?”).
The good news is that the French have finally discovered one of my brunch favorites: eggs Benedict. You might have thought that this was a French dish since it comes with sauce hollandaise, mais pas du tout. You can get it at the Café Charlot, probably the trendiest of the trendy cafés that now line the Rue de Bretagne in the Upper Marais. This is a great spot, with a big, sunny terrace; a nice, simple decor with white-tiled walls; and super-friendly service in spite of the fact that the place is always teeming with customers. And – surprise, surprise – their eggs Benedict is almost perfect (although I’d prefer a touch more lemon in the hollandaise sauce). The other dishes are tasty and made with good, fresh ingredients, but the frites seem to be the frozen variety.
Its rival across the street, the Café du Marché, also has its followers. The prices are a little lower, but the food doesn’t seem to be quite as reliably good. They do make an attempt at originality, however, with offerings like a salade pastilla de poulet (a pastilla is a spicy Moroccan filo-pastry turnover, in this case stuffed with chicken and served with a salad). You can get club sandwiches and a salade Niçoise here, a classic that is rarely seen on Paris menus today, and the French fries served with the burger are homemade.
Another great midday option on the Rue de Bretagne is the Marché des Enfants Rouges (closed on Monday), a food market where the vendors have set up tables and serve their various specialties to masses of people. You’ll find pizza and pasta, North African and Japanese cuisine and even socca (chickpea-flour crêpes) from the South of French. It’s like a food court without the mall, but the market reeks with ambiance rather than the smell of cheap fast food. And it’s great fun to eat in the middle of the market.
If you aren’t in France to eat food from elsewhere and want something more traditionally French, go around the corner to Les Enfants Rouges, a wine bar run by the charming Dany and her daughter Emmanuelle. They offer a small menu of typical dishes like saucisson de Lyon pistaché and poule au pot and a very nice selection of wines, with an emphasis on Côtes du Rhone.
Joe Allen: 30, rue Pierre Lescot, 75001 Paris. Métro: Les Halles. Tel.: 01 42 36 70 13. Open daily, noon-1am.
Chez Prune: 36, rue Beaurepaire, 75010 Paris. Métro: République or Goncourt. Tel.: 01 42 41 30 47. Open Monday-Saturday, 8am-2am; Sunday, 10am-2am. Brunch: €21.
Café Charlot: 38, rue de Bretagne,75003 Paris. Métro: Temple or Filles des Calvaires. Tel.: 01 44 54 03 30. Open daily, 7am-2am Free Wi-Fi. Cheeseburger: €15. Brunch: €19.
Café du Marché: 37, rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris. Métro: Temple or Filles des Calvaires. Tel: 01 42 72 66 53. Open daily, 7am-11pm. Cheeseburger: €12.50. Brunch: €14.
Marché des Enfants Rouges: 39, rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris. Métro: République or Filles de Calvaire. Open Tuesday-Sunday for lunch. Prices vary.
Les Enfants Rouges: 9, rue de Beauce, 75003. Métro: Temple or Filles des Calvaires. Tel.: 01 48 87 80 61. Open Tuesday-Sunday for lunch; Thursday-Saturday for dinner. Fixed-price menus: €16.50 (lunch) €34 (dinner).
Reader Tina M. Lynch writes: “I’ve been an American expat in Paris for about a decade. By far the best burger is Joe Allen, but yes, some French places are starting to catch on. If one is in the throes of a major burger craving pinch, even Indiana Cafe might suffice……but after Joe Allen I might try Breakfast in America. Otherwise, I just cannot do the French version of brunch. It irritates me too much. Anyway — thank you for your article!”
Reader Jacques Bosser writes: “Really, today, the best hamburger in Paris is served in one of the most pretentious eateries in St Germain des Prés, the brand-too-new Ralph’s, i.e., Ralph Lauren. But at a price [€28].”
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