Bastille Day is celebrated in France on July 14, commemorating the storming of the Bastille prison on this day in 1789. Since BurgerBusiness celebrates the revolution that freed burgers from their unexciting past, it seems proper on this day to learn a few actionable lessons from menus of some of the great French burger bars, of which there are many.
#1: Know your cheeses. The French know a great deal about cheese and it shows on their burgers. I’ve never tasted, nor had I heard of “fromage Laguiole,” a cow’s milk cheese from Simmental cattle. But L’Atelier du Burger in Toulouse puts it on its Chef’s Burger (along with bacon, caramelized onion, a cooked egg, lettuce, tomato and house burger sauce). It uses Emmental, Morbier, Fourme D’Ambert (blue) and shaved Parmesan on other burgers. The West burger at Blend in Paris has four kinds of cheese. The “You Really Got Me” burger at Burger’N-Co. in Toulouse tops beef, chorizo and roasted peppers with melted Spanish Manchego cheese and finishes with a Spanish-style sauce. When Cheddar is used it’s not uncommon for the menu to say how long it has been aged. Goat cheese (often with honey) is a staple. And their good cheeses are usually cut thick, so you can taste and enjoy them, not cellophane-wrapped-cheese thin.
# 2: Chop some herbs. You sprinkle chopped cilantro on other dishes, perhaps, but probably not on your burger. Big Fernand in Paris uses cilantro, chives, tarragon, parsley and more on burgers. It’s a great way to overlay fresh flavors.
#3: Tiered pricing upfront. Like many French burger bars, Le Camion Qui Fume in Paris has a simple menu and a simple pricing scheme: Burger=8,90€ ($9.80); Burger of the Day=$10.46; Burger + side (fries, onion rings, coleslaw)=$12; Burger + fries + drink (soda, water) = $14.21; Burger + fries + dessert (cheesecake, cookie) = $14.21; Burger + fries + drink + dessert = $16.41. Obviously combo pricing isn’t unique to France or Europe, but French burger bars do less a la carte pricing and have smaller menus (maybe six burgers plus a daily special burger).
#4: Let them eat bread. There’s no excuse for a boring bun so the French don’t do that. Their buns look like bread. An exception is a recent Burger of the Week at Burger’s Banquet in Marseille, where a halved beefsteak tomato functioned as the bun (consider that for a non-meat special). In the middle was ham, mozzarella, pesto, coleslaw and lettuce. Higher-quality buns certainly have caught on in U.S. burger bars, but the French burger bars know that variety as well as quality sells.
#5 Eat your vegetables. And fruit. Roasted or grilled vegetables are frequent burger toppings. Mamie Burger in Paris tops an organic quinoa patty with grilled peppers, zucchini and eggplant. La Folie du Burger (Madness & Burger) in Marseille serves an All Inclusive Burger with eggplant (along with aged Cheddar). The recent Grilled Figue Burger special at Moon Burger in Marseille had pear confit, grilled onions, Emmental cheese and mâche greens.
The French learned burgers from us, so it’s only fair to take some ideas from their preparations. They do fresh and varied and bold all very well. If you could do any of those better, do so. Up the revolution.