Paris, France -- Yes, you’ve been sightseeing and sightseeing and you just want to find a McDonald’s and plop down with your quarter-pounder. Don’t you dare! No need to, because in three excellent locations across Paris are the Breakfast in America (B.I.A.) diners. If, as is often stated, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, wouldn’t it be nice if you could have it all day? Well, a Connecticut Yank figured a way to do just that – in Paris, where he’s not only brought authentic American breakfasts available into the wee hours in three locations, but also the diner experience. And, to top that, there’s lunch and supper!
On Saturday, January 4th, 2003, after two years in the making and seeking backing, Craig Carlson fulfilled his long-time dream. He opened his Breakfast in America diner in the heart of the Latin Quarter. There had been months of trials, tribulations, and delays dealing with labyrinth of rules, regulations, inspectors, and the French work ethic. This led to curiosity and anticipation about what this American was up to. He could hardly believe the day had finally come. It arrived with one of the heaviest snowfalls Paris had seen. He stood at the door to welcome customers, afraid that there’d be none.
The aroma of strong American coffee tempted a few passersby. They came in, warmed up with bottomless mugs, and to what was coming hot off the grill. And they keep coming. B.I.A. has become so popular with locals and tourists, there are now three locations in easy to reach neighborhoods.
The French are as mad about food and wine as they are about amour. So, there was always apprehension about how they would react to hearty portions of diner fare. In place of croissants, crepes, and petit déjeuners, there’d be stacks of pancakes with maple syrup and choice of blueberries or strawberries, along with eggs, Western omelets, bacon, hash browns, and toast. The menu has grown to include wraps, chili con carne, club sandwiches, fresh-baked bagels, cheesecakes, root beer, and milkshakes. Needless to say, along with pancakes, the real American hamburger has proven to be a smash – along with the introduction of toasters at each table and Sunday brunch.
Carlson came to France as a student and didn’t take long to fall in love with the country. Thanks to Paris’ thriving art house cinemas, he developed a love for film and decided to pursue it as a career. After studying at University of Southern California film school, he worked at Disney, wrote scripts, made a short film, and was able to return to Paris to work on a TV show. “I really missed the good old-fashioned American breakfast,” he says. “The only thing the French knew about American cuisine was fast food and French fries. I became obsessed with opening an authentic diner and serving traditional American breakfasts.”
July is always a doubly hot month: Quite a traditional celebration of the Fourth -- with a menu boasting tangy BBQ ribs, corn on the cob, potato salad, chili dogs, along with B.I.A.’s all-day breakfast all day and famous burgers; and, on the 14th, France’s special celebration, Bastille Day. If you happen to visit later in the year, don’t miss B.I.A.’s Thanksgiving Dinner extravanganza, the one time they take reservations for three seatings of their candlelit three-course feast.
Locations: 17, rue des Ecoles, 75005 Paris (near the Sorbonne, Panthéon, Notre Dame, art houses, and cabaret extraordinaire Paradis Latin); 4, rue Malher, 75004 Paris (Marais, near rue des Rosiers, the famous Jewish quarter); and 41, rue des Jeûneurs, 75002 Paris (adjacent to Grands Boulevards, near Opéra Garnier, Le Grand Rex cineplex). Full bar. No reservations. For more information, operating hours, nearest Metro stations, and phone numbers, visit www.breakfast-in-america.com.
Where Carlson found time to write quite a successful book, Pancakes in Paris: Living the American Dream in France (Source Books; includes recipes; www.pancakesinparis.com) is unknown. But he did it, and it’s filled with the warmth of his dreams and the naked truth of how difficult it was to fulfill it.