Confession time: I love Parisian brasseries. Not so much because of the food they serve: although I have been pleasantly surprised at times, dishes can be a bit pedestrian. But those venerable restaurants exude history and personality. To have a meal in a traditional brasserie is to be transported in time: Belle Epoque, Art Nouveau, Art Deco… pick your favorite era. I often dine alone when I am traveling and I refuse to surrender to room service: a brasserie is always warm and welcoming of solo diners. There is an element of predictability in the menu: you can be pretty sure the steak-frites and choucroute garnie will be decent, if not very enjoyable. Service is fast and efficient: watching the waiters clad in in their traditional uniform of black pants, white shirts, black vests and white aprons is akin to attending a well-rehearsed ballet at Opéra Garnier. And, of course, the décor provides endless amazement, inspiration, and surprises: I captured the perfect shot for the cover of my book while dining at Brasserie Julien!
Many brasseries offer service continu, which means that you can pretty much order coffee, wine, or food from 7 am to midnight. The “fancier” ones may not offer breakfast but will stay open quite late, so you can still enjoy a leisurely dinner after the theater. On the other hand, if you landed in Paris at 10 am after a very long flight and you are fighting jet lag, you probably just want to get a decent meal on the early side.
The evening of our arrival in Paris last month, Rick and I dined at Chartier. They don’t take reservations but they serve food non-stop from 11:30 am to midnight. We showed up at 6:30 pm (how un-French of us) and were seated immediately. One doesn’t go to Chartier for a gastronomic experience: since its very beginnings in 1896, the goal of Bouillon Chartier has been to provide a decent meal at a reasonable price and they continue to deliver on that promise. One could even argue that bouillon was the original fast –and cheap– food. Check out the menu: where else in Paris can you get a bowl of soup for 1 euro?
A hundred years ago, the typical Chartier customer was a Parisian worker; on that night last February, half of the dining room seemed to be filled with tourists. I didn’t mind. The food was satisfying and inexpensive. The atmosphere was lively and unpretentious. The Belle Epoque décor was simple yet gorgeous. Good times. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves…
Le steak-frites: steak and French fries
La choucroute garnie: sauerkraut garnished with an assortment of pig meat products
Le service continu: non-stop service
Le bouillon: broth
L'addition: the ticket
S'il vous plaît: please