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The Paris Brunch Scene

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A tortilla at Soul Kitchen

The French are currently in love with brunch which is now attracting customers at every dining level, from neighborhood cantines to the Hotel Ritz.  By all rights, France, the country of three set meals a day should hate this American exercise in overindulgence.  So why has brunch become an exception to this rule?

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 Brunch at Cafe Francoeur


It seems brunch has found a new niche in recession-pinched Paris as an affordable way to dine out on le weekend.   Local merchants are open until 1pm on Sunday before closing until Tuesday morning.  Many Parisians who shop on foot from day to day stock up on Sunday morning for the beginning of the week.  In this casual environment, families connect and friends find time to socialize over a meal. However foreign the concept, brunch is both an attractive segue and a good value.

 

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Brunch at Cafe Francoeur

Last month I brunched in six different locations in Montmartre where the base price for brunch is 20€, about as much as a Parisian would expect to pay just for lunch (without wine or beer).  They were evenly divided between two camps..  One I would call the French 'formule' style is an invariable menu of specific dishes: a starter, usually smoked salmon with toast, a main course containing eggs and finally a dessert of plain fromage blanc.  The most ambitious of these serves no less than six small dishes that all arrive together on a tray.  On the occasion of my visit the menu included French toast, a spicy meat-filled samosa, a fresh fruit cup, scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, a Caesar salad with cheese and fromage blanc with a berry puree.   It tasted about as interesting as an upscale cafeteria.

 

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Bakery items at Le Bal


It may come as no surprise that brunches served in restaurants whose owners are English speakers are more successful.  Here one orders a la carte, which means diners have to build their own brunch.  There’s a wide selection from creme brulee, pain perdu, vegetable hash and a cheese board to eggs baked in individual cast-iron pots with potatoes and spicy peppers.  This brunch style is best described as a grand, petit dejeuner (The French Academy’s preferred if self-contradictory word for brunch.)  The dishes are cooked to order. and the baked goods are terrific.  

 

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Le Pichade at Soul Kitchen

My favorite Montmartre brunch spot turned out to be a small cantine just up the street.  The menu here is a lapsed formule of three main course choices, each served with a salad and a choice of dessert.  The owners have a knack for plating their beautiful fritatas and focaccias so they look freshly made just for you.  The place is always packed and parties wait outside, sometimes for as long as an hour.

 

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Cappucino at Hardware Societe

If I were to lodge a complaint against all these brunches, it's the lack of coffee refills and wine service.  Freshly squeezed orange juice and excellent coffee come as soon as one orders, which means there’s only water on the table when the food arrives.  I refuse to purchase coffee by the cup on principle.  This is one occasion when my praise of the French committment to quality over quantity comes back to bite me.  There's no mistaking a Paris brunch for its American model.