For the most part, I loathe French restaurants in the United States. I like dingy dives, I love street food, and I despise haughty, overpriced bistros. Sadly, most French places are either miserably pretentious, or simply out of my price range. Really, would a working-class Frenchman ever eat in the sorts of French restaurants that are all over the high-rent parts of Manhattan?
That said, I loved eating in France. I spent three weeks backpacking around on a skin-tight budget, and ate the cheapest-ass crap I could find. Amazingly, none of it was ever crap. Cheap Chinese food and street crepes and convenience-store sandwiches and neighborhood bakeries all served fresh, flawless food. I can’t pretend that three weeks in the country made me any sort of expert on French eating habits, but I had the feeling that nearly every piece of food in France is carefully prepared, even if it’s cheap as dirt.
So in the spirit of eating cheap, reasonably-authentic French food, I thought I’d just visit the cheapest French place I could find in NYC. That proved to be a relatively difficult task–seriously, it was almost impossible to find a plate of “typical French food” for less than $15, and there were only a few odds and ends available for less than $25 on most French menus. Screw that.
Luckily, a French immigrant decided to open a bakery/cafe in Bushwick. Little Athom Cafe has a grand total of eight seats, and it’s pretty much the last thing you’d expect to see on that particular stretch of Broadway.
Did we eat French food? Well, do carefully-prepared omelettes count? It’s a French word, after all, and the French pretty much invented the modern omelette, though the ancient Persians apparently had a precursor to our current version. I think it counts. The delicious goat cheese and roasted pepper omelette at Athom was an immaculately groomed little creature, with a cute little handful of perfectly cubed potatoes and a cute little salad and grilled wheat bread. I could easily imagine eating exactly that dish at a cafe in France… and maybe that’s just my imagination, but I thought it was pretty great.
Of course, we also chowed down on a chocolate croissant, baked onsite. For your breakfast pleasure, Athom also serves a nice variety of breads and muffins, as well as magnificent fresh-squeezed juice.
Prices were dirt-cheap, at least to my Manhattanite eyes–I paid a mighty $13.75 for the omelette, a massive cup of fresh grapefruit juice, a large brewed coffee, and a fresh chocolate croissant.
In Bushwick, of all places. Who knew?
1096 Broadway, Brooklyn
Subway: Koskiusko Street (J train)