An American in Paris: Burger King reigns superior as one of Paris’s “popular” restaurants
Velvet rope, security and an overflowing line packed with anxiously waiting onlookers, is what I encountered on my way to take the train one day at Saint Lazare station. What could this be for? Is there an opening of a new store, restaurant or a possible celebrity sighting? Is George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Uma Thurman or one of the other celebrities that frequent Paris inside? These are the questions I asked myself as I passed by the extensive line wrapping back to the front of Starbucks on the top level. The line was protected with thick red velvet ropes as at any hot nightclub and headed with security guards wearing bright orange armbands. When I stopped to turn to the right to see where the front of the line began, nothing could have prepared me, especially as an American for what I saw. “ This line is for Burger King?!”
Velvet rope and security guards are not the first symbols I relate to Burger King but in Paris, they are the first thing any Parisian will tell you about the fast food giant. When the first and only Burger King in Paris, opened last month it was “the king”. Saint Lazare station, which traffics trains to the Parisian suburbs, metro lines and houses a trendy mall throughout its three stories, sees hundreds of thousands of people each day. However, this station now has become not just a train station but a destination for an “evening out” as it holds one of Paris’s most popular restaurants.
Besides, the first obvious question I asked myself, “Why would anyone living in one of the world’s culinary capitols, wait in line for a Whopper?” In addition I continued to ask myself, why is Burger King just arriving in Paris as a Starbucks and McDonald’s shockingly appear on every corner. Come to find out, my roommate informed me, Maud, that this is not Burger King’s grand appearance but their rebirth.
The restaurant existed in the 90’s but closed in 1997, as McDonald’s became the dominant burger chain. Unlike, the states, there is limitation to how much “junk food” can exist in this glorious culinary universe.
The French government regulates how much “Americanism” can be allowed here in the country. Music, television and restaurants are all restricted to certain quantity. This as to not corrupt citizens with the steroid filled, “junk food” lifestyle we have come to endure in the US. As an American, we dream of enduring a place like France where escargot, caviar and specialty formage flows like wine. We obsessively grasp every photo-opt possible, while drooling with envy over our magnificent foie gras meals. wishing we could eat like this everyday forever. Yet, as we frolic around Paris, reading our guidebooks for the best Michelin star restaurants, the French are envying the presence of “everyday junk food”. Though, Pizza Hut, KFC, McDonald’s and Starbucks all exist here, the items are extremely limited. As I spoke to my roommate Maud, pondering the concept of ever getting sick of the endless escargot, formage and caviar, it comes down to the internal human instinct inside all of us, you always want what you can’t have.
Burger King had become the most anticipated “junk food” restaurant in Paris proving that the presence of American culture was not a visible in France as I had imagined. Except for Starbucks, as it was in other countries such as, Germany, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Burger King all claimed a presence as if you were in Grand Central station. However, when I saw this “VIP” line and the excitement of anxious look on Parisians faces waiting for their first bite of a Whopper, I knew that I was still far away from home.
I finally decided now in January, that I had to be part of this experience. I refused to step in any of the American chain restaurants here in Paris, except to use the Wi-Fi, while I was in my culinary dream world. Since McDonald’s served simpler meals than the US including macaroons and beer, I assumed BK must be different too. As an American living in the states, I never went to fast food restaurants, unless I was extremely desperate. Though I am a “pescatarian” and don’t’ eat meat, I know as American there should be a warning label when eating at most fast food restaurants.
“ Warning, side effects of this hamburger may include, diarrhea, nausea, birth defects, warts, acne, fatigue, hem rods, antlers out of your head, gray hair or make you look Paris Hilton”
It had been six weeks since the grand opening of BK, the lines at lunch and dinner where almost as long as the day it opened but early morning, mid afternoon or late evening seemed to be more reasonable. Now, in late January as all the holiday shoppers had returned to their daily routines and the lines less than half than the entire month of December, the excitement was still there. To my surprise this afternoon, I was standing in a “shorter” line, which still took 20 minutes to get inside and another 25 to order.
I giggled with others, as though at a premier nightclub, when security had to escort someone to the back of the line. A beautiful, young French girl in her late teens or early twenties, tried to “work” the security guard to cut the line and meet a friend. Like at any club where cute girls are their own golden ticket to the front of the line, she tried to “woo” the security guard to the front but he wasn’t having it.
While almost attempting to abort the mission, I decided to wait it through and the young male security guard lifted up the horizontal rope to let our next anxious group of consumers in. When arriving inside, I saw customers smiling, laughing and enjoying their meals while wearing their staple “Burger King” crowns, which I didn’t think existed still. I remember how exciting it was as a kid to go to “Burger King’ for play dates with friends. We wore our crowns, enjoyed a double cheeseburger and loved our meal back when BK was considered a decent meal. Now, as Burger King and other fast food restaurants went to the bottom of most of our lists, it was somewhat refreshing to see excitement again in something that has been lost.
It is ironic that back in the US I would not step foot in this restaurant but here in Paris, I was willing to give it a try. The menu was digital as most fast food menus have updated to, the trend continued to keep the menu was simply French. No triple whoppers, no bacon, no ranch dressing and no dollar (or one euro) menus, of course. However, the additions made up for, ganache cake, glazed donuts and beer as a beverage choice instead of a soda……..at no extra charge.
I reviewed the small menu available as I waited in line I reviewed my limited choices, since I didn’t eat meat, and crinched a little as I thought of my only option, a fish sandwich. However, I said hell with it and got a “King Fish” meal. As I waited the 45 minutes, though at a fine dining restaurant in Paris, I grabbed a king hat and hoped it would be as good as I hoped.
I sat down to try my “gourmet” Burger King meal in the small restaurant looking over the entrance of Saint Lazare station. It was tough to compare to my last BK meal, as it had been so many years. Though as Paris keeps up to it’s reputation, any meal in Paris is a good meal, no matter the restaurant.
I first unwrapped my fish sandwich to see if the mayonnaise situation was any better than I remembered and, strike one. I scrapped my bun on the few napkins I had to wipe the pound of mayonnaise off. As I continued with the clean bun, the fish was considerably fresh for a fried fish patty but the initial flavors wore off and the memory of “why I don’t’ eat here” came back.
I went to try the fries, remembering Burger King hosting the title of best, crunchiest fries of the American fast food chains, hoping the legacy continued but strike two. My fries were lukewarm, chewy and un-flavorful but maybe it was just a bad day. I resumed to sit with the others, finished my seven-euro meal and left like I always did after any fast food meal, like shit.
I am glad I waited and experienced one of Paris’s “hottest” new restaurants, if anything for the conversation piece. Though we all need some junk food in our life, no matter what city, I think I will return to my original plan of formage plates, oysters and salmon crepes. No matter what, every experience is a good one and I can truly say this proves we take for granted what we cannot have. Nevertheless, lastly, Burger King no matter what the fuss, where in the world, it is still just Burger King.
Here’s what to expect at the Parisian Burger King:
- Prepare to be in line, from security to the order line, for a minimum of 40 minutes.
- The word menu translates to meal
- Meals, as in the US, include a side and a drink
- The most expensive meal on the menu is 9,60 euro and the least expensive is 6,20 euro
- Dessert includes glazed donuts, chocolate and vanilla ganache cake
- You can order beer and is include in your meal as a drink choice
- If you order a salad there is only one type of dressing, yogurt
- There is no breakfast
- Hours are 10am-11pm everyday
- Remember, you’re in France!