An American (breakfast) in Paris: NY-style diner is chic in France

October 3, 2012 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Cody Delistraty

In Paris and looking for a hefty American meal? Breakfast in America serves up just that.

Upon arriving in Paris, American visitors realize that the typical Parisian breakfast – coffee, juice, and a croissant or tartine – is, by American standards, hardly a meal at all. And French lunch and dinner? Sure they’re delicious, but sometimes a craving for a hamburger or chicken wings is so strong that even McDonald’s looks tempting.

That’s where the red banquettes, Formica countertops, bottles of Heinz ketchup and surprisingly tasty diner food of Connecticut-born Craig Carlson’s now-famous Parisian restaurant, Breakfast in America, come in.

There are a handful of New York-mimicking restaurants in Paris now, but Breakfast in America, which has locations in both the 3rd and 5th arrondissements, is the name known throughout the city. Open since 2003, the diner has seen a spike in business thanks to a recent French obsession with brunch and an inexplicable desire for all things New York. For young people, carrying a Starbucks down the street is now a badge of honor, and Abercrombie & Fitch symbolizes American cool at its pinnacle.

“I think for Parisians, we want to go to Breakfast in America because it’s like we are taking a plane to New York,” said Thomas Fall, a born-and-bred Parisian who works in advertising and frequents the diner. “It’s becoming something almost French to eat American.”

Cody Delistraty

But, even more than a sought-after French hangout, the diner is a cultural bastion for American tourists and ex-pats. The restaurant puts on Thanksgiving dinners, registers voters during American election season, and celebrates the Fourth of July with an abundance of corny, charming décor. With its 1950s styling, it’s a restaurant that plays off of nostalgia for an old-school America.

“We get a lot of Americans who are here for a short time in Paris, because they miss their food, and a lot of Americans who are here for a long time, because they miss their food,” said Ellie Gerrans, a waitress at Breakfast in America who studies at the University of Durham in England. “Honestly, we’ve had times when the same family would come in every single day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Cody Delistraty

American families are often spotted chowing down on amply portioned meals like the 2X2X2 — two eggs, two pancakes and two strips of bacon – or biting in to a club sandwich or juicy cheeseburger. Older American men enjoy sitting in a corner banquet with the “Bottomless Mug O’ Joe” and a copy of the International Herald Tribune, the New York Times’ global newspaper. American women even enjoy sharing stories of their French life over brunch, or, perhaps, a brownie with ice cream.

It’s the type of scene that rarely occurs in France. No cigarettes, no petite espressos, no lovely views.  Breakfast in America is “a marriage of both” French and American culture, as the diner’s manager, Catherine Lacey, puts it. But the diner’s atmosphere is clearly American, thanks to the fact that the restaurant stocks many French basics (Président butter and Perrier water, for instance) to avoid pricey imports.

Yet its clientele is global. It is a museum of American culture, in which tourists and locals alike discover a romanticized vision of America.

While many Americans prefer to dine exclusively on French food while vacationing there (indeed, the “gastronomic meal of the French” is protected by UNESCO as a “cultural heritage” and should be taken advantage of when in the land of escargots and Champagne), not everyone can make it through their time abroad without a taste of home.

Gerrans, who has seen lines of Americans waiting for the food they know and love, shared her observation: “Obviously, there’s a certain type of American who can’t leave America for a week without eating pancakes.” 

When you travel, do you seek out food from home, or do you prefer to eat like the locals?

Cody Delistraty is a freelance feature writer who currently lives in Paris. Find him on Twitter @delistraty.

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