It took me a bit to understand what I saw on Route 29, which runs right through the heart of Washington County’s farm country.
It was a tiny white food cart with an Eiffel Tower replica popping out of the top. It is totally incongruous and out of place with anything around it.
We’ve had several stabs at ethnic cuisine in the county – a Mexican restaurant and an Asian takeout place; they were…well, disappointing.
I couldn’t imagine what a “little Paris” could be doing in Greenwich on a busy country highway a stone’s throw from dairy farms.
Could they possibly make authentic Parisian food in that little cart? Wow, was I wrong.
Beware snobbery or timidity.
I drove by “a Little Paris” a hundred times, but it was closed, or I couldn’t quite believe what I saw. I laughed at the name and the little tower.
The sign says it is only open Thursday through Saturday, from noon to seven p.m. I was rarely in Greenwich in the afternoon. I just didn’t think about it.
“A little Paris” is in a small white cart with a small glass window and a tiny kitchen.
There are benches in the back and a mall counter with menus and a tip jar.
This morning, I stopped at the vegetable stand next door to buy some pumpkins for the Mansion, and I looked over and saw the Parisian place was open.
I asked the woman behind the counter what “a little Paris” was all about, what they make, and what it was doing in the middle of Greenwich.
I was curious. I always look for surprises for Maria, and I don’t mind discovering excellent food for myself.
Well, she said, hesitating, “it’s kind of unusual.”
I could tell she was reluctant to say much about it, assuming I wouldn’t be interested, or maybe she did not like French Food. I had the sense she was wary of outsiders selling strange food.
I bought my pumpkins, put them in the car, and drove right next door.
When I got to the window, Bob stuck his head out, he was friendly and very open, and I liked him immediately. He introduced me to Bonnie, who was in the back of the cart near the stove.
She doesn’t like to be photographed, but she relented, thinking it might be good for business.
We talked briefly, and Bob suddenly leaned forward and asked me if I was Jon Katz, the author.
I said I was, and he said he had come to one of my readings when one of my books came out. These are serious dog people and had a crazy border when they met me, much like I did, and had to give it away when he got aggressive. I know that story.
I told him my story – leaving publishing and focusing on my blog – and how much I loved my life.
I told them about Maria. We talked about our dogs.
I asked them what their own story was, and I loved hearing them tell it. It’s a good one.
Bonnie taught French for 30 years, and Bob was a songwriter.
When they both retired a couple of years ago, they talked about what they wanted to do and thought about making and selling good French and Parisian food.
They wanted to do it in Greenwich. What a curious idea it must have seemed to their friends and family.
Everyone they knew told them it would be mad to open a French roadside food stand in Greenwich; the nearest restaurant was a McDonald’s just down the road, and some mostly struggling restaurants on Main Street, Greenwich’s tiny downtown, a mile or two away.
I’ve noticed that new food entrepreneurs are almost desperate to avoid brick-and-mortar structures with their rents, septic problems and many state health regulations.
Small food businesses also can’t afford to hire many employees or pay health or unemployment insurance. Food carts are an excellent alternative for them to get started and experiment inexpensively.
I don’t think Bonnie and Bob want to spend every minute of their lives running a restaurant, but they seem to love the three seven-hour days when they can cook and sell the food they love.
And bask in the pleasure of their gamble working out. Hard work really does pay.
And one good thing about their location is that many people drive by daily.
It clearly a creative enterprise for them, Maria and I both connect with a story like that in a very personal way.
We had a blast talking; I can only describe them as lovely people; they are the sort of people you love to get to know and have over for dinner. I love stories of people who challenge themselves and chase their dreams. They are heroes to me.
I invited them to come and visit the farm.
I appreciated their story; it is really about courage, creativity, and determination to do what they dared to dream about.
And also, clearly, about love.
“A little Paris” is booming; it was more successful than they expected or even wanted. They seemed to work seamlessly and easily with one another.
We went over the menu. It was past lunchtime, so I decided to wait to buy two “sweet crepes- (dessert) and bring them home as a surprise for Maria.
I can’t eat desserts like that, except once in a great while (diabetes), so I bought them for her. She gave me half of one for dessert. I ate slowly and lovingly. It was amazing.
One of the crepes was The Rodin, a crepe with fresh strawberries, jam, sweet cream, and dark chocolate sauce. The other was The Renoir – fresh raspberries in a thin wrap with sweet cream and dark chocolate sauce. I almost chose the Cezanne, apples, whipped cream, cinnamon, and whipped cream for her. Maria and I were surprised at how good they were.
I’m no food critic, but they were light, sweet, and tasted wonderful.
I will not be eating them very often, but she certainly will. All of the desserts were $8.95. I will be having the “savory crepes.” We’re going together for lunch there tomorrow.
The “savory crepes” menu has four different crepes. I think Bonnie does most of the cooking (we had fun talking dogs.). Bob mans the window, explains the menu, takes the orders, and collects the money.
Everyone thought the couple was bonkers when they opened up there;
Bob said the first customer ordered some hot dogs and was disappointed when he understood where he was.
“We thought we were in big trouble,” he said, but to their surprise and joy, “A Little Paris” caught on and is booming.
These are the “savory” crepes.
The Mouline Rouge is a crepe made with ham, Gruyere Cheese, and Sauteed Onions. The one I’m going to order tomorrow and take home for dinner (Maria and I are going there at lunchtime, I told her she had to see it) is the Latin Quarter: shredded chicken breast (seasoned with Herbes de Provence, garlic & olive oil) Gruyere Cheese, sauteed onion, and Bechamel Sauce.
The Eiffel Tower (Chicken Corden Blue) – is shredded chicken breast, Herbs de Provence, garlic and olive oil, ham, Gruyere Cheese, sauteed onions, and Dijon Bechamel. The Louvre is a crepe made with grilled asparagus, roasted red peppers, sauteed onions Chevre goat cheese. The cheese choice substitutes are Gruyere, Chevre, Monterey Jack, and Cheddar Mix.
The crepes are $11.85.
I was surprised by the depth, range, and quality of the food I was looking at.
But then, I was surprised by the whole thing; the cart is smaller than many trucks and SUVs driving by and is the very kind of place I would bet could not work in the rural and agricultural county where I live.
It was gratifying to be so wrong and to see this good and hard work pay off so well by interest and hard-working people.
The older I get, the more I learn about how little I know and how foolish it is to prejudge. I am more open to new experiences and discovering new and often beautiful things.
I was reminded of eating in a fancy French bistro on the East Side of Manhattan. I used to eat there all the time when I worked at CBS News.
They know what they are doing at “a Little Paris.” They did as well as that fancy restaurant.
I felt I had made instant friends and found a special place to eat and take home exceptional food. The menu is simple and manageable and small enough that they can make what they offer with care and attention.
“A Little Paris’s” success is a big deal in Washington County, and I won’t make the mistake of driving by anymore.
Nor will I roll my eyes at people who take the leap and follow their hearts. May they have every success.
Working for others and only for money seemed a kind of slavery to me. And retiring without purpose seems unbearable for me.
I think it would have killed me if I hadn’t busted out on my own to be a writer, and that was surely a leap of faith.
I know the food cart won’t be open in the cold winter, so I will enjoy it when possible.
I love bringing Maria surprises for lunch – she was very pleased by the sweet crepes, although she doesn’t care for a lot of sugar either. But I bet the savory crepes will really work for us.
And I love the idea of a little bit of Paris flourishing right alongside the cows. We’ll be there tomorrow.