27 January 2014

feed the captives: freddie's deli, 75011

One of my pet causes is holding writers accountable for use of the words 'hipster' and 'bobo.' Both words are blanket terms that absolve a writer from the responsibility of considering individual subcultures, or whatever it is that unites them at a given address. 'Bobo,' the portmanteau of 'bourgeois' and 'bohemian' that has attained an alarming currency in modern French usage, is all the more egregious for having been coined by NYTimes columnist and malign pseudo-sociological waffler David Brooks.

I mean this as preamble to a discussion of Freddie's Deli, the sandwich joint (not deli) opened last summer on a ripely disused Oberkampf side street by Kristin Frederick, the inspired marketeer behind Paris' first burger truck, Le Camion Qui Fume.

I could blame Paris' "hipsters" and "bobos" for the quasi-ironic glorification of street food that pervades culinary discussion and rewards concepts like Freddie's and Le Camion Qui Fume, which by objective standards produce pretty mediocre product. But what I'd really mean is "young people and Americans and Australians and Brits," and what these demographics share is a dearth of culinary heritage. So rather than dwelling on Frederick's slapdash appropriation of regional US sandwich themes, it seems more worthwhile to note that our attraction to them identifies us as captive victims of agro-industrialism. Sentimentality for cheesesteaks and burgers - recipe-memes that thrive under mass production systems - is our collective Stockholm Syndrome.

More than one Parisian has explained to me that the staggering queues outside Gare Saint Lazare's recently-opened Burger King are a manifestation of mass nostalgia, since Burger King hadn't been available in France for a decade.

The same phenomenon occurs when someone like me enters Freddie's Deli and sees a cheesesteak. That Freddie's Deli's sandwiches arrive on buns baked by celebrity baker / professional smiler Gontran Cherrier in no way redeems what is basically a very infantile appeal.

And, rather childishly, I was disappointed to find Frederick's cheesesteak bore little relation to the downright majestic one I had last February from John's Roast Pork in South Philly.

Frederick's cheesesteak is leaner, with too much bread, and not enough flavor. It might have something to do with the unavailability of aged steaks in France. But it's also because Freddie's Deli doesn't seem to aim to make the best version of anything. Who has time to perfect one regional sandwich, when you're trying to cover them all ?

In keeping with the slightly placeless Americana theme, Freddie's Deli stocks Brooklyn Brewery beers. The beers remain well-crafted, even if in Paris the brand's dead-obvious ubiquity of late leads one to suspect that many Parisians associate the beers with a kind of Brooklyn-of-the-mind, a fictional place sponsored by Vice where French boys in tight red pants pogo-dance with members of Ladytron.

Freddie's Deli isn't particularly guilty of this, but it seems a nice place to mention that stocking Brooklyn Brewery and zero other craft beers does not confer cool upon a Paris bar. It confers the opposite, like a trucker hat.

Typically, by the time I arrive at Freddie's Deli, shortly before their 10pm closure, the kitchen has exhausted almost all the ingredients, and I'm left with a weighty, slightly indigestible turkey sandwich as the only option. This might be very effective kitchen management, or it might be because Frederick has designed Freddie's Deli to be more of a basically functional showroom than a real service-providing restaurant. What she's selling is a concept. Frederick now plans to open another Freddie's Deli in the Marais and another one by Place de Clichy.

I'll get over my philosophical differences and patronise these places, because I consider take-out hot sandwiches a relatively useful service in present-day Paris. And with France's culinary and agricultural heritages slowly but surely going the way of America's, a chain of Freddie's Delis won't have any trouble attracting other clients.

To paraphrase P.T. Barnum, there's another one born every minute.

Freddie's Deli
22 Rue Crespin du Gast
75011 PARIS
Métro: Ménilmontant or Saint Maur
Tel: 01 84 16 33 75

Related Links:

David Lebovitz endorses Freddie's Deli, although the piece seems mainly to be about how much his companion likes pastrami.

L'Express finds Freddie's Deli "New Yorkais."

More precious fast food in Paris:
Grillé, 75002
The Sunken Chip, 75010

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