By Theadora Brack in Paris—
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!
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.
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!
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!