I have a vivid memory of buying a ham sandwich at a street stand on a gloomy day during my first trip to Paris and eating it while sitting on a stone bench in the Cour Carrée of the Louvre. It was a revelation. How could anything so simple – a baguette, a few slices of ham and some butter – be so incredibly good? Since then, I have had a few that hit the sweet spot of that first jambon-beurre, but I have had many, many more that were mediocre at best.
So, when I heard that Thomas, who used to work at my favorite Parisian fast-food counter, L’Avant Comptoir, had opened a sandwich bar, JBC (for jambon, beurre, cornichons), specializing in quality versions of the jambon-beurre, I was eager to try it in hopes of repeating the Louvre experience.
JBC turned out to be a pretty (all in black and white, with tiled walls and floor, and a crystal chandelier) but minuscule shop just off the grands boulevards. The only seats available were a few stools at a narrow counter, making eating inside a challenge, since there is barely room for the line of customers awaiting their sandwiches. It wasn’t raining, so once we had received our order, Evy and I repaired to the tables outside, none of which belonged to JBC but to McDonald’s, half-expecting to be reprimanded for squatting the chain’s table. No such thing happened, however, so we set to work, Evy on her vegetarian sandwich and me on my JBC.
I would love to say to it transported me by Proustian magic back to my first trip to Paris, but unfortunately it only got me partway there.
The baguette was a nice chewy specimen but it was warm (why?), which caused the butter to melt, ruining the effect of generously slathered fresh, sweet butter, which tastes so good with jambon de Paris. The ham itself was fine but rather lacking in flavor. I was surprised to find only one cornichon in it and went inside to ask for more. They were cheerfully handed over. Later I discovered that the original cornichons had fallen into the paper wrapper and went back to confess my mistake, also cheerfully received.
Evy enjoyed her vegetarian sandwich but didn’t
seem overwhelmed with joy. She said it tasted like salsa on a baguette and that it was difficult to eat (the filling kept falling out).
For dessert, we both had the speculoos panna cotta, which looked rather runny but was delicious. with the spicy cookies crumbled on top of the creamy pudding.
I would go back for the good-natured service and good prices, but certainly not when it’s raining. Meanwhile, I hear that Eric Frechon’s restaurant Lazare and Yannick Alléno’s Terroir Parisien make a mean jambon beurre. See below for more addresses.
Other restaurants and delis serving quality ham-sandwiches:
Chez Aline:85, rue de la Roquette, 75011 Paris. Tel.: 01 43 71 90 75
Le Petit Vendôme: 8, rue des Capucines, 75002 Paris. Tel.: 01 42 61 05 88
Le Jambon Beurre: 117, rue Saint Honore, Paris. Tel.: 09 83 53 23 47
Caractère de Cochon: 42, rue Charlot, 75003 Paris. Tel.: 01 42 74 79 45