September 6, 2005
In 1949, Louisiana-born Leroy Haynes opened the very first American restaurant in Paris. He was a cook, an actor, a wrestler and a sociologist, he had many friends from both sides of the Atlantic, and his restaurant quickly became a favorite hangout for the local African American community and visiting celebrities. Jazz musicians, singers and dancers, Hollywood actors, all of them smiling and beautiful on the black and white pictures hanging from the walls, with little notes to Leroy scribbled in the corners. When Leroy died some fifteen years ago, his wife took on the operations and made sure Haynes' spirit and food lived on.
In its present location since the mid-sixties, the restaurant's facade looks unprepossessing to say the least, with the kind of secretive look that makes you wonder if it's actually open, if you're welcome to step in or if maybe it's a private club. This undoubtedly explains why, although Haynes is but a few blocks from our place, we had never dined there.
But considering the current catastrophic events, what better time than the present to go and eat a little soul food? So off we went a few days ago, our neighbor-friends in tow. The restaurant was very quiet that night, with just a few other tables, which allowed us to chat for a while with Haynes' widow Maria, and Cesar, the Brazilian waiter who also organizes wildly popular live samba nights on Sundays.
While we perused the menu we were brought a basket of toasted corn bread (apologies for the less-than-stellar cell phone pics) and a little jar of spicy sauce, which we slathered on the sweet, moist and crusty corn bread with great displays of pleasure. We then shared an assortment of three first courses -- fried gizzards (who could resist), the chef's coleslaw with pineapple and hot chicken tamales.
Wanting to keep the whole menu American, we decided to have wine from California, and toasted to better times for New Orleans with a very forgettable Paul Masson chardonnay -- maybe we should have stuck to margaritas!
For the main course, Stéphan ordered the T-bone, which Maria warned us was actually a simple filet de boeuf because her French butcher won't cut T-bones. No matter, the (huge slab of) meat was tender and juicy. Patricia had the Mexican chili (the best she'd ever eaten) and Maxence ordered Sister Lena's barbecued ribs (the meat could have been juicier in our opinion). As for me, I had to have the New Orleans gumbo with shrimp, chicken and okra -- delicious and full of flavors.
We had very little room for dessert, but for the sake of research we felt it was our duty to sample some of the homebaked goods: we shared a slice of cheesecake (which everyone liked but me) and a slice of a truly admirable banana cake, served warm.
Haynes' is a charming, homely and friendly place. The food is prepared with honesty and simplicity, the legendary decor brings an additional depth to the experience, and I will definitely be back. Must try the honey fried chicken!
3 rue Clauzel - 75009 Paris
01 48 78 40 63
Dinner at El Bulli