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Paris: The city’s best-dressed baguette sandwiches

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Café de la Mairie
Cantal baguette at the Café de la Mairie. Photos by Theadora Brack

It’s (sigh) time for another confession. On my very first trip to Paris years ago, I ate practically nothing but baguette sandwiches, both night and day. Even then, see, I was already a Cheapo in spirit!

And soon I was hooked. Still after all these years, my love for the classic French “sammiches” (as my musician brother Will says) is here to stay. And what’s not to adore? Individually wrapped, often in beautifully illustrated bags, they’re delectable, affordable and oh so portable.

So, as a nod to the upcoming picnic season and to New York Times 82-year-old street photographer Bill Cunningham, let’s pedal push wildly “On the Streets” of Paris, and find out what the best-dressed sandwiches are wearing this season. I’ll also tip you off to two of my favorite current joints for sandwiches—a café and a boulangerie. Relish that, Cheapos!

Jambon Beurre Gruyère

Jambon Beurre Gruyère (ham, butter and Gruyère cheese)

Tip one
Splurge-worthy: Café de la Mairie
8 Place Saint-Sulpice, 6th arrondissement (Metro: Saint Sulpice or Rennes)

Thank my sister Wendy for this discovery. During her recent trip to Paris, she’s the one who wisely suggested that we take a much-needed touring (and shopping) break at the Café de la Mairie, and I’m happy to report that the experience was a knockout win-grin.

I had photographed the café’s terrace-action for previous Cheapo stories, but I had never dined there. Truth be told, for the love of saving euros, I usually try to avoid the bars and cafés near tourist hotspots, and the Café de la Mairie is located in the heart of Saint-Germain, kitty-corner to Église Saint-Sulpice.

But to my surprise, the café latte with a Cantal cheese and butter baguette (pictured, top) wildly surpassed our expectations. Blame the attentive table service, dramatic skies, and the catbird seats under the big awning near a bustling bus stop, but the spontaneous moveable feast was worth every cent, down to the last drop.

While the coffee may have cost a tad more than at cafes located in less touristic areas, it was rich and hot, topped with a thick layer of foam. The substantial sandwich Wen and I shared? It cost just €4, and we sliced it down the middle. Dagwood in Paris experience? Priceless.

Who else found inspiration here? Henry Valentine Miller, Anaïs Nin, and Ernest Hemingway, along with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Saul Bellow, and Djuna Barnes. Let’s also add James Joyce, Samuel Becket, and Jean-Paul Sartre, but don’t forget Albert Camus, Edward Hopper, and Simone de Beauvoir.

Added bonus: After fifteen years of restoration work, the church of Saint-Sulpice across the square recently shed its scaffolding, and the view is once more a beauty.

Le Grenier à Pain

Sunday night bread line at Le Grenier à Pain

Tip Two
Palace-worthy: Le Grenier à Pain
38, rue des Abbesses, 18th arrondissement (Métro: Abbesses or Pigalle)

Located in Abbesses, this is where I buy most of my baguettes and jambon-fromage sandwiches (ham and cheese with butter). Consistency, friendly customer service, and an eclectic house selection of breads, cakes, and pies are just a few of the Grenier boulangerie’s winning qualities.

Tip: If you spot the sandwich of your dreams but it doesn’t have crudités (lettuce and tomato), just ask, and they’ll happily add it.

Add award-winning to the mix, too. Handsome Boulanger Djibril Bodian won the 2010 “Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Française de la Ville de Paris” which not only earned him a sparkly medal and a wad of cash but also earned him the honor of baking bread for the Palais de l’Elysées (the French presidential palace) for one year! The annual award is based on aroma, honeycomb-like interior, and crust (which can never be too thin or too crisp). What makes Bodian’s bread so special? No shortcuts, long fermentation, and a dash of hazelnut!

By the way, the 2011 winner has not been announced yet. Perhaps the President and First Lady don’t want to lose their daily loaf from Le Grenier à Pain? Just guessing. Please stay tuned!

Baguette Thon Crudités Oeufs

Baguette Thon Crudités Oeufs (tuna, lettuce, tomato and hard-boiled eggs)

Best-dressed list

And how are the baguettes dressed this season? Here are a few of my favorites. Take heed, they are dressed to fill!

Baguette Cantal Beurre (Cantal cheese and butter)

Baguette Jambon Beurre Gruyère (ham, butter and Gruyère cheese)

Baguette Thon Crudités Oeufs (tuna, lettuce, tomato and hard-boiled eggs)

Baguette Salami (salami and butter)

Baguette Poulet Crudités (chicken, lettuce and tomato)

Baguette Paté, Baguette Camembert (Camembert cheese)

Baguette Saucisson Sec (cured sausage)

Your favorite baguettes?

Do you have a favorite baguette sandwich? Share your experience in our comments section. And bon appétit, Cheapos!

About the author

Theadora Brack

About the author: Theadora Brack is a writer working in Paris. Her fiction has appeared in more than 30 literary publications, including 3AM International, The Smoking Poet, Beloit Fiction Journal, Mid-American Review, and the Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal.

Leave a comment

6 Responses to “Paris: The city’s best-dressed baguette sandwiches”

Andrew Hare says:

Ay, I shouldn’t have read this 2 hours before lunch!
Having said that, our Scottish sandwiches are nowhere near these beauties…

Rob says:

Actually, I’ve always thought the ubiquitous Paul makes excellent baguette sandwiches. And now there is a little Paul trailer selling their sandwiches in the Tuilerie gardens, a stone’s throw from the Louvre.

For those at the Orsay Museum, a few blocks away from the Seine on the Rue de Bellechasse is a branch of Gosselin with great sandwiches on their very good bread. And they still have reasonable prices on quality pasteries, unlike most of the other deluxe pastry shops. Take your food to the pretty park in front of nearby St. Chlotilde on rue las Cases, or take a longer hike to the gardens of the Rodin Museum (entry 1 euro for the gardens only) with its view over the Thinker to the golden dome of the Eglise du Dome and the Eiffel Tower.

Pete Meyers Pete Meyers says:

We’re with you that Paul makes surprisingly good baguettes. Coincidentally, our mother has the habit of swiping Paul-branded sugar packets and displaying them back home to make the Mr. Coffee machine feel, well, more Parisian.

Thanks for the comment!

Pete & Tom from EuroCheapo

Marty says:

Loved the story, Theadora! I would add that the busiest bakeries are almost always the best–not only is a line out the door a sign that the locals are willing to wait for their favorite baked goods, but it also means that the pre-made sandwiches in the cases haven’t been waiting around too long for an eager mouth to gobble them up. That’s always been my complaint about those pale stacks of cold panini’s you see all over Paris–that half-baked dough sits there hour after hour growing god-knows-what microbes till they finally get a little toasting to cover up any off-putting smells when someone wants to buy one, while meanwhile real traditional baguettes (especially when they are still warm from the oven) are the kind of thing that made people sing hymns (as in “let’s break bread together, believers!”) or write love poems (“a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou . . .”). No panini would ever inspire that kind of thing. Accept no substitutes! Thanks for your paean to the Real Thing!

Love stopping and grabbing a sandwich when in Paris! It is a perfect lunch, very reasonably priced and tastes delightful. We were in Paris with our teenage children and stopped to have a sandwich everyday at whatever bakery was nearby. Our kids loved this idea and especially loved the sandwiches with the amazing dijon mustard!

Vivian Kelly says:

I’m partial to the Thon sandwich and the gruyere and butter are to die for! After reading this, grabbing one of each will be the first thing I do when back in Europe in November.

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