I love going to the Paris flea market to search for treasures, and to visit vendors who have become friends over the years. When I’m there, I always break for lunch at a rollicking café that is just as exceptional for its character as it is for the food.
The Marché Vernaison is a maze of narrow lanes lined with tiny stalls that are overflowing with treasures.
The entrance to Chez Louisette is in a back corner of the market. (Just follow the sound of the music that resonates out of the café every time the door is opened.)
On a tiny stage in the corner, Manuela, the chanteuse, channels Edith Piaf, belting out, “Non je ne regrette rien,” accompanied by an accordion player in an apron and a curiously sober pianist on a small keyboard. (She’s been entertaining patrons there for more than forty years.)
In an atmosphere bursting with joie de vivre, waitresses bellow to be heard above the music, and plates of hearty food are passed along the tightly packed tables where Parisians sit elbow to elbow with flushed tourists, gulping wine and swaying to the music.
I love the boeuf bourguignon (see below), but they also serve delicious moules marinière, steak frites au poivre, and other classic French dishes.
The ceilings are covered in red foil, and red and gold garlands are festooned helter skelter above the dining room. Photographs, odd paintings, and miscellany line the walls, some appearing as if they have been there since the 1930’s, when the cafe’ first opened.
Rumor has it, Edith Piaf actually sang here in her early days, and it’s not difficult to imagine what it was like at the time . . . in all likelihood exactly as it is now.
Marché Vernaison, Saint-Ouen (Paris Flea Market)
130 av Michelet