Saturday, November 12, 2016

Breakfast in America—In Paris

The "2 X 2 X 2"

Every so often, after living in Paris for many years, I get a craving for a real breakfast that a dainty croissant can’t satisfy. Like those Saturday morning brunches I made for my brothers as a young girl growing up in Pittsburgh: Bisquick pancakes, slathered with Imperial margarine, and swimming in Log Cabin syrup. That was the life!

Those happy memories came flooding back as I read “Pancakes in Paris,” about how an unlikely American with no restaurant experience—Craig Carlson-- started a chain of diners called “Breakfast in America” or BIA for short.

In reading the book, I worked up a pancake hunger. Yesterday, my husband and I left our cozy suburban apartment for the Latin Quarter, home of BIA No. 1.

Now I had been to BIA before, and remembered a long line and an impatient little girl—my daughter. This time, there was a short wait and no daughter, who now as a normal teenager didn’t even have enough patience to join us. Refusing a tiny table for two, we took seats at the counter. The best seats in the house--in a diner!

CC's Big Mess: Not for vegetarians
Hubbie ordered the 2 X 2 X 2, which is two each of eggs, bacon or sausage, and pancakes, with a side of real maple syrup. (Ever the mathematician, he wonder why it wasn’t the 2 + 2 + 2?) I bravely ordered the owner’s signature dish, CC’s Big Mess: Scrambled eggs with bacon, ham, sausage, onions, peppers, mushrooms, avocado, and cheddar cheese, served on top of a pile of home fries—with a hold on the cheese and a side of salsa.

BIA's diner decor
We admired the décor as we waited for our dishes, including the authentic laminated counters. There was a reason BIA reminded me of the diners of Pittsburgh. Because that’s where Craig found his inspiration! After joining the Diner Rescue Fund, he was invited to attend Dinerama 2001, a bus tour of Pittsburgh’s finest in diners dating back to the 1920s. (For a history of diners, go here.)

“Thanks to the Pittsburgh diner tour, I met a diner supplier that still made the authentic 50's era boomerang laminate counter top, which I then had shipped to Paris,” Craig said in a Facebook message to me while on book tour in California.

“I have so many special memories! I wish I knew the name of the diner, but it was a 1950's shiny, classic diner where we were allowed to order whatever we wanted off the menu (included in the tour price!),” Craig said. “I also remember visiting a diner just outside of the city, where they had a muscle car show and Hank Williams, Jr. was there to sing.”

Our dishes arrived on diner-issue oval plates. My mess was hearty, to say the least, and I loved the concept of scrambled eggs and potatoes together. But you’ve really got to be a carnivore for this dish, and not just a half-hearted vegetarian like myself.

But the pancakes!

Before John had a bite, I had already had two. The hotcakes were near perfect, round, evenly cooked, tender, and generously hanging over the rim of the plate. (No small praise for a former restaurant reviewer and child pancake prodigy.) Proust had his madeleine that brought back memories. For me, it's pancakes.

Rose Marie Burke,  an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." Want to follow this blog? Enter your email address into the “Follow me” box. Or find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.


  1. Yum! So the big mess is what we would call in my family: farmer's breakfast. The combination of eggs and potatoes is a classic!

    1. The dish really appeals to me, since I can't make an omelette, too much fuss and too much butter. This way I have license "to make a mess."