20 April 2010

Rant: Eat American, Même en France

This post was inspired by finding out this weekend that the only place offering a "Foursquare" special in Paris is the middling Breakfast in America. 

One thing that kills us living in France is the dearth of good American food out there. Not that we'd actually go out regularly to eat it. We can just cook it ourselves. It's easy. Which is why we're so perplexed as to why American food is so damn bad in Paris.

And we're not talking "New American" cuisine or California cuisine or any fancy fusion stuff. We're talking burgers and hot dogs and pancakes and eggs benedict. Stereotypical American food. Stuff so easy, I could pull the gimp out of our caveau and he'd be able to cook it ball-gagged and hog-tied, chained to the stove. It's not rocket science. It's American food, for crying out loud. The land where Sarah Palin still gets paid for speaking engagements.

Yet even the American-run joints here can't serve up a burger worth the 14 euro or so (yeah, that's about 20 freakin' bucks) they charge. What gives? It's not a lack of ingredients. It's certainly not a lack of culinary knowledge.

Maybe it's because American food – because it's the simplistic domain of mouth-breathing Tea Baggers – doesn't accord the necessary respect that all food of any origin should receive. And that's to make it with good ingredients and care.

A perfectly balanced American meal of burger, fries, salad, and beer.
So this weekend we decided to take on one of these careless slingers of overpriced American food, the oft-cited Breakfast in America. With two locations in the Marais and the Left Bank – both hangouts of American tourists and expats who don't know any better – they do a brisk business of selling overpriced, highly mediocre American food. People of all walks of life line up for this shit like basement-dwelling nerds drooling over booth bimbos at a Vegas convention, which as anyone who's ever done this knows, never leads to any satisfaction.

Despite the stupid Supertramp-inspired name, most people there seem to be eating the sub-par burgers. And they pay the equivalent of twenty bucks for what, exactly? Nothing better than even the most culinarily inept can make by themselves. Sure, it takes a little investment of time, but you can have a real burger made with freshly-ground meat, real cheddar cheese, grilled sweet onions, hand-cut double-fried fries, and a beer for just a little coin. Use supermarket ingredients (yes, every damn supermarket and corner mini-market in France has hamburger buns) and you're lowballing the craptacular restaurants by nearly 90%. And it will still taste better. We guarantee it.

Burger with grilled sweet onion, fresh tomato, hand-ground beef from
the butcher, and thick-sliced real cheddar cheese.
Material cost: 2 euro. Maybe 3.
For pocket change and a few minutes of your time, you're able to make at home what's served in only the chicest, upscale restaurants here, who have decided to serve a burger simply because it's trendy, not because it's remotely what they do best.  Seriously: Make a patty, cook it medium-rare, throw it between two toasted pre-made buns, throw on your garnishes of choice.  Look at the picture above. It's no pussy-ass "slider."  (Another passé trend that's made it to these shores, of course.) That hamburger bun's the diameter of a compact disc. So you're lookin' at some monster meat.

The next most popular American item is the humble pancake. We could dedicate chapters to the French notion of the pancake, how it's eaten, how it's served, but we're ragging on an actual American restaurant here.

We know pancakes are very subjective. Everyone has a different recipe. Some actually like the mix that comes out of a box. Some like them thin, some like them thick and biscuity. There's no agreement at all on what makes a good pancake. And, ok, they're not 100% foolproof. When making your own, inevitably you have to go through one or two "test" pancakes 'til you get it right.

Admittedly, the first three were spotty, black discs that looked
like a tranny hooker's leopard-skin panties.
But even when burning through a few "guinea pigs" trying to get the skillet to the right temperature, you still only need a ratio of two eggs to two cups of flour, mixed with little dashes of leavening agent, sugar, and fat to make a couple of respectable stacks of flapjacks. (We opted for melted sweet creamery butter and olive oil this time, but that's just getting unnecessarily fancy.)  And contrary to the beliefs of silly expats who go to American epiceries and buy overpriced bottles of fake pancake syrup, real maple syrup is available at all Paris supermarkets... dirt cheap. So cheap you wouldn't mind warming up a whole bottle of the sticky stuff to pour over your short stack.

I'll repeat: It's not fuckin' rocket science.

So yeah, this post is more of a bitch & moan session than anything instructive or remotely informative. Because making a basic hamburger or pancake is one of those skills every red-blooded American (even those who fled the place) should have. Unless you simply don't cook, of course. Then you're off the hook.

But say even if you aren't culinarily challenged. Sometimes you just want a break. To go out, have good food, and be served. Then why go to a place with shit atmosphere and bad service?

As an American, I find it insulting that people accept much of the shit being slung out there, and especially at the prices being charged. Why support these shenanigans? Demand better. Demand the best. Because you're American god dammit. (Or you want to eat like one.)

Fuck Breakfast in America.

If a half Eye-ranian immigrant and his farmgirl wife can pull off the food you see here for what amounts to pocket change (admittedly, with a few 2-euro coins in the mix), imagine what a paid professional should be serving you. Demand. Better.

On the bright side, there are a few upstarts restos out there that are doing an adequate job on burgers and pancakes recently, and at a reasonable price.  We'd share them with you, but half the fun is breaking free of the herd and discovering these little everyday revelations for yourself.


  1. try schwart's deli...


  2. I take anonymous posts shilling for a resto an invitation for a takedown... Next time I wanna spend too much on a burger and cheesecake and give it some serious scrutiny, you're on, Shwartzy!

  3. I think the secret ingredient lacking here is the kind of grease found on the griddle where you fry them burgers and pancakes. I don't know what they use but it's probably banned here.

    I made meat loaf the other day... so simple it makes you want to weep with nostalgia.

  4. The best was Tommy's in SoCal - they'd SCRAPE the crud off the griddle to make the chili for their chiliburgers.

  5. I was thinking Tommy's too! The original one in downtown LA. Not the offshoots in the burbs, they're too clean.