When I’m not eating French food in France, I’m scoping out my next great French foodie adventure when I travel or when I’m home. Imagine how over the moon I was to hear that Brasserie 292, a new classic French brasserie, with a modern flair, would be opening within walking distance of my home. Quelle Surprise.
I have since visited several times in an attempt to work my way through the traditional menu, with a few of their own creative dishes thrown in. I’m also in talks with the owners to rent cot space in the kitchen, because apparently, walking distance doesn’t seem to be close enough.
These visits have reminded me of why I not only love classic French cuisine, but why I like eating in the relaxed, yet bustling setting of a French brasserie. I thought it would be a perfect time for me to tell you a bit more about what you can expect from that experience in France.
What is a French Brasserie?
The word brasserie (pronounced brass-ree) originated from the word ‘brewery’ and were initially found in the Alsace region of France. These days, it describes a type of French restaurant that serves classic French dishes in a friendly, but upscale setting. They are generally larger than a bistro, have a full bar, a fixed menu (which is professionally printed as opposed to written on a chalkboard), are open daily with longer hours, and have professional wait staff.
In an upscale French restaurant, you’d be expected to order a full meal – but in a brasserie, that’s so not the case, which is why I tend to love and prefer them. Take a seat at the bar for a glass of champagne and a few oysters and share a cheese plate, come for a simple plat-du-jour, meet friends for brunch or splurge on a full-blown dinner – it’s all de rigueur at the French Brasserie.
French Brasserie Decor
For me, much of the charm of the classic French brasserie can be attributed to the decor. Imagine large leather banquettes (classic red is my absolute fave), antique brass finishings, globe lighting, dark wood, classic white linens, simple tableware, and larger than life mirrors reflecting diners enjoying the convivial atmosphere. The most stylish represent Art Nouveau or Belle Époque periods. Even the design, arrangement and detailing of the menus seem to play a large part in creating the overall ambiance.
French Brasserie Classics
Though each chef might take creative license to add a few different dishes to their menu, and each region of France would most certainly include their regional specialties, you can always expect to find several traditional dishes on the menu. Most will have some sort of raw bar offering oysters, clams and mussels, served simply on a bed of ice with lemon wedges.
Generally, you’ll also find a selection of soups, salads, sandwiches, omelettes, pastas, and simply prepared chicken, steak and fish dishes. Something for everyone, which is yet another benefit of dining at one.
Classic dishes like Steak Frites and Moules Frites, with aioli for french-fry-dipping, Croque Monsier, Salad Niçoise, Cassoulet, Coq au Vin, Cod Brandade, Sole Meunière are standard options. You’ll also find a Plat-du-Jour, which would be a daily chef’s special that would be different for every day of the week.
Since French brasseries will also have a bar, you can expect to find a nice selection of beer, wine by-the-glass and bottle, champagne and a wide range of cocktails ranging from the perfect brunch Bloody Mary, to an aperitif like a Kir Royale.
For dessert, French classics like Tarte Tatin, Profiteroles, Crème Brulée, Baba au Rhum, Chocolate Mousse and sorbet will grace most menus. You can bet some sort of tart, whether it be lemon, berry, plum or almond may make an appearance.
Some Paris Brasseries
There are great examples of brasseries all over France, but Paris seems to be littered with them. Unfortunately, many of the great, once independently-owned brasseries in Paris have now been acquired by the Flo brasserie chain. These include Brasserie Flo, Julien, La Coupole, Bofinger and others. Some have kept up and some, well, not so much. Brasserie Balzar would be one to visit in this group.
> If you want to dine on French food with a view, try the Brasserie I’le Saint-Louis, which offers a lovely view from the terrace. It’s a favorite of mine to date.
> If you have a hankering for a late night snack, visit Au Pied de Cochon, located in the now (sadly) defunct Les Halles market area. They are open 24 hours, 7 days a week!
> For classic French dishes with over-the-top Belle Époque decor – it has to be Le Train Blue.
> Looking to recreate your own moment from Something’s Gotta Give, visit the famed Le Grand Colbert.
> Thomieux is a more sophisticated and creative Brasserie in the 7th (near the Eiffel Tower). It’s run by talented ex-Hotel Crillon chef, Jean-Françoise Piège.
> A popular bare-bones budget option, Chartier appeals to the working-class in the 9th neighborhood and is one of the oldest Paris restaurants.
> Mini-Palais, near the Grand Palais, is a tres chic option in the 8th with continuous hours, prix-fixe and dining surrounded by trees on the grand covered outdoor terrace.
> New-comer Lazare, aptly named for its location at the St. Lazare train station, is getting rave reviews from locals and restaurant critics alike – visit if you want a mix of classic and contemporary in both your food and decor.
Eating at a classic French Brasserie can be a fun and delicious experience, that can be enjoyed on any budget. It is sure to be a feast for both the eyes and for the stomach, no matter where you happen to indulge.
Do you have a favorite French Brasserie or a classic French food dish that you love? If so, share in the comments.