Dec 14th, 2017, 11:00 AM

The Great American (in Paris) Roadtrip

By Henry Hardwick
From Montmartre with Love. Image Credit: Henry Hardwick
"We're all living in Amerika. Coca-Cola, sometimes war."

With McDonald's having just plopped down a "flagship" store in Hanoi, Vietnam, it seems that it's one small step for America, one giant leap for American globalism. Sure the colors match the flag, but let's not forget what an American invasion force has done here. Baptized by "freedom," MacDo and Starbucks occupy every street corner, with Five Guys not far away on Champs-Élysées. Now just because this second liberation of Paris came along in a mass-produced package doesn't mean there's not more to this pretty polaroid picture.

Rather, in search of the greatest goodins this side of the Atlantic, our great American road trip in Paris is pulling out all the stops at these diners, "drive-ins" and dives (Shout-out to Guy Fieri, All-American mayor of Flavortown, USA). With winter coming, it's the blue-collar working man's natural environment, and this dining experience is his "Desert Island Top 5" American-inspired restaurants.


"I hope it's going to come true, But there's not a lot I can do." - Supertramp. Image Credit: Henry Hardwick

Just like any "great American novel," or restaurant review for that matter, it's best to start out with Breakfast in America. While it may not be open 24/7, all that matters is this"Is it brunch if breakfast's served all day?" With an atmosphere ripe with the wafting smell of Ma's kitchen and a one-man wait staff on point, all is well even at the 11th hour. Surrounded by tiled floors, chalkboards, and memorabilia littering the space, it truly feels like last chance salvation when you're "right where the road to perdition hits the highway to nowhere." Now, there's no harm in taking this Leap of Faith, because the Thanksgiving decorations covering the windowsills just serve as a reminder that it's the type of beauty often passed by, even when it's the destination.

It doesn't take much to know good eatin's are up ahead at this "American Diner in Paris." Founded by Connecticut expat Craig Carlson of Connecticut and featuring a star-studded menu with the "#1 Choice of The Pancake Kid," the place has heart and soul. As long as a diner's got that, it doesn't matter if it's jam-packed for Sunday Brunch or if you're riding solo on a rainy Monday night. With Cake and Nirvana playing in the background, what may seem like a Diner of Broken Dreams at face value comes alive in its performance. Completed with a CC's Big Mess and weekly special milkshake, it's warm food for a cold evening and a hearty stack of all things unhealthy.


Image credit: Henry Hardwick

Up next is comfort food in a comfortable environment: HD Diner. Short for Happy Days Diner, you couldn't hit the Americana trifecta (TV, Diners, and Chains) harder if you tried, and oh do they try. Just like the Quail Springs mall food court in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, HD Diner is complete with replica dining cars and a gaudy 1950's-esque design that'll really "rustle your jimmies" as both an eyesore and a turn-on.

With nine locations throughout Paris alone, it really is like the city equivalent of a drive-in. Whether you hop in at Opera or La Defense, a wide-open space and multiple stories give no excuse not to stop on by. With holiday specials ranging from a Thanksgiving special complete with a turkey burger, Dr. Pepper and slice of pecan pie to a free milkshake when you show up in your Halloween costume, HD Diner keeps the American spirit alive.


"Damn them Yankees, outspending everybody two to one." - James Taylor. Image credit: Henry Hardwick

Speaking of local, the Real McCoy is just down the street on Saint-Dominique. Just as small as it is expensive, nothing says supply and demand quite like 24 euros for a Dr. Pepper 12-pack. While it did have that classic football design on it, what really saved the (Friendsgiving) day was Betty Crocker's cornbread mixperfect for any American student low on money (and cooking skills). What the Real McCoy lacks in affordability, it makes up for in authenticity, which just so happens to be the exact definition.

With an English-speaking staff on hand, you'll have no problem buying your pumpkin pie (or American flag). With one of the most defining American structures being the "convenience store," what's more convenient than having a helping hand in deciding between Aunt Jemima's or Hershey's strawberry syrup for those *ahem* special moments (i.e. Finals). While they may have American-packaged Oreos, the age-old Zombieland (2009) question of "Where are you, you spongy, yellow, delicious bastards" is finally answered. Right here, Tallahassee, right here.


"Hey good lookin', Whatcha got cookin'?" - Hank Williams. Image credit: Henry Hardwick

As the self-proclaimed Oklahoma Kid, I'll admit that any self-respecting Okie can't say anythin' good's ever come out of Texas (except maybe the fella who sells propane and propane accessories). Having been said, the stop by Melt, Paris' authentic Texas barbecue joint is well worth it. With homestyle cookin' made simple (by not having to do it yourself), the wood 'n' walls say Texas, but French as can be. With a modernist cow sculpture and baskets hanging in the air just as much as the smell of smoked meat, don't expect the Big Texan (maybe just a subtle Texan). You see, just because you choose to play Two Cigarettes in an Ashtray over the Tennessee Waltz doesn't mean you're not any closer to the uncanny valley than you are to Avenue de la République.

Now I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but this corn-fed hick has a lot to say when it comes to one of my favorite three letter words. Fine dining is an experience, but there's no faster turn-off than a bald Frenchman asking if you'd like "ketchup ou mayonnaise pour votre frites." It's moments like that the drink menu comes in handy, and thank goodness Melt's includes "The National Beer of Texas." If you're a "Lone Star" like me, you'll be lookin' to wet your whistle, 'cause you'll be moseyed on over to one of three two-seat tablesand here they've got a jar sayin' "tips ain't just for cows." Now I ain't sayin' they'll tell ya to skedaddle, but them Alamo boys were fightin' for freedom in them coonskin caps after all.

Don't get me wrong, I love the environment for all it's worth. The jugs scream Texas Roadhouse just as much as the kitchen sign does "#SmokeMeatEveryDay." I'm just sayin' that you oughta bring your Southern Belle (or Beau) along, 'cause you walk a lonely road out on the midnight range. Nevertheless, with a fistful of Euros, you oughta pony on up to this Franco-Texan love child. Just as I taught a pretty French girl to say "Howdy partner," Melt's sure to melt your heart just like the cheese on Pa Hardwick's chili. Sure it's full of city-slickers, but everything's bigger in Texas, and the same's so here.


"Name what you want and it's there, the American Dream." - The Engineer, Miss Saigon. Image Credit: Henry Hardwick

Finally, we reach our destination, the American Dreamhow poetic. Self-described as the "largest American multiplex in Paris," it's more or less embodies the chaotic grandeur of the musical number of the same name. With subway cars and saloons sitting under a single roof, the four distinctly themed restaurants spread across four levels have everything you could want, because why stop at need? Whether you opt for the gogo bar or the piano bar, you can "come and get more than your share, the American Dream."

Whether this is a cautionary tale of consumer fetishism or a telltale warning of the American Nightmare, it's nevertheless true that this here is the American (Cultural) Embassy in Paris in all its "Old Glory." If Texas BBQ isn't your thing, why not go for some Tex-Mex? And why stop there when there're 49 more states to go? If you're feeling bicoastal, there's always a California sushi bar, or a Cape Cod a la king if that's your thing, From a Philly cheese steak and cheeseburger tower to Little Italy and ice cream sodas, you have the freedom to choose.

Now I won't lie, you'll be paying for the environment more than anything else. The service is practically non-existent, the food is overpriced, and the online reviews are sadly more accurate than one would hope. However, with motorbike racing on TV (and hopefully NASCAR - Yes, NASCAR does have its own season), you get the whole package, albeit an infomercial quality one without being able to make it in three easy payments. And at the end of the day, isn't that what America's about?


"You can get anything you want at Alice's restaurant." - Arlo Guthrie. Image Credit: Henry Hardwick

My fellow Americans, although our trio has ended, your own culinary travels have just begun. Just as they say in On the Twentieth Century, "As in flight across the night America the Beautiful rolls by," and so too have we on this lovely journey. Having grown up next to the Oklahoman's Food Dude himself, I have it on the best authority that this has been (and hopes to serve as) the greatest possible excuse for a student to gorge on "fine" American dining, and invite you to do the same.

While I would have given five stars to any reuben with sauerkraut this side of Germany, there's no reason for dismay. Whether you want to quench your wanderlust or travel far and wide, don't forget you never have to stray further than the Amex to find that little slice of America, because there's no place like home.