Claus: The Art Of Breakfast in Paris

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Breakfast in Paris? Even ten years ago, the idea was practically a joke. The French don’t consider breakfast a meal; lunch and dinner are meals. Breakfast is a steaming bowl of coffee and perhaps a pastry or slice of bread smeared with butter and jam. Children might enjoy a piece of fruit or a yogurt, but the idea of cooked food for breakfast is a rather foreign concept.

I learned this to my dismay when I lived in France. Though I could certainly rustle up something at home, real food was nearly impossible to find before noon. True, brunch has gained in popularity in the last five years, with many Parisian restaurants offering it on weekends, but it still begins at 12:00 and is often formulaic. Eggs + pastries + juice = brunch. Still not particularly inspiring.

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Enter Claus.

Claus, the restaurant and the man for whom it is named, believe in breakfast as a meal in it’s own right. When you ask Claus Estermann, a tall man with salt and pepper hair and a neat mustache, about breakfast, he is undeniably passionate. “It should be sweet and savory, hot and cold. But this didn’t exist in Paris! I knew there was a void that needed to be filled.”

This passion for breakfast is (need I say it?) not French in origin. Though he has resided in Paris for nearly half his life, Estermann was born in Germany, where even the simplest breakfast includes cold meats, boiled eggs, dark bread, and various condiments. He was raised in Munich and Strasbourg, born into a family that owned and operated a four-generation hotel. When he moved to Paris at 22, Claus knew service, and he knew the dining scene. After years of managing the culinary visions of others, Claus decided in 2008 that he wanted to bring a bit of his home to Paris – a restaurant dedicated to the art of breakfast.

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He succeeded, even though Parisian investors all told him he was crazy, and that the French simply didn’t do breakfast. Doors opened in 2011, and Claus expanded this in March, opening a small epicerie, or specialty grocery shop, across the street, where you can buy pastries, coffee and tea blends, and other delicacies (including some of the best fresh goat cheese I’ve ever tasted). Reservations strongly are advised, because Paris’ first breakfast place is a hit.

I visited on a sunny Friday morning, just a few weeks after the epicerie opened. This meant more space on the ground level for tables, expanding seating from 18 to 33. It would seem the extra seats were needed, as the restaurant was buzzing the entire time I was enjoying breakfast. Make no mistake, you’ll want to allot a good chunk of time to enjoy your visit. The decor is simple and minimalist while feeling cozy. The breakfast menus, on the other hand, are far from spare.

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There are six formulas (menu combinations) to order, priced from 16 euros to 33 euros. No doubt this is a treat, but the spread offered is not cheap food. Everything at Claus is made in-house (excluding the bread, which is picked up fresh each morning), with an attention to sourcing. The eggs all come from a single farm just outside the city, the meat from Parisian butcher shops. Everything is as fresh as Claus can get it, which is very important to him.

When I asked for a favorite memory of the restaurant, he had several, but only one got him truly nostalgic. “In the beginning I used to pick up the bread myself in the morning, on my motorbike. I had to cross le Pont Neuf, a bridge in Paris, to get back to the store. I loved the feeling of riding all alone across this huge bridge, the sun rising, and my legs warm from the bread in the bike bags.”

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Each of the formulas comes with a generous bread basket, with toast, rolls, whole wheat buns, and pastries. Depending on the formula, the basket will be accompanied by any number of breakfast items, from omelettes to pancakes to smoked salmon platters. Three women sitting just next to me and visiting from California had all ordered Le Vero Dodat, for 26 euros, which includes a hot drink, fruit juice, pastries, brioche with butter and jam, two eggs with bacon, muesli, and a gorgeously presented lemon cake for dessert. They were struggling to eat it all, but trying valiantly.

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One can also order a la carte, as I did, slightly daunted by a five-course breakfast. I ordered a dark and sultry cassis et pomme, or currant and apple smoothie, an omelette filled with ham and avocado accompanied by a green salad, and a side of home-smoked bacon. Everything was beautiful, conscientiously prepared, and delicious. The eggs and smoothie (I still think about that sweet, tart smoothie!) were especially good.

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Customers flock to Claus for many reasons: the food is well prepared, the service is charming, the address is central … but it also offers a spectacular breakfast during breakfast hours, which has locals and visitors pining after something to eat in the mornings, very, very happy.

Claus opens at 8:00 each morning, incredibly early by Parisian standards, and serves its full menu until 5:00 each afternoon during weekdays. Saturday it opens from 9:30 to 5:00. Visit their website for hours and the phone number for reservations.

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Photos taken and styled by Amy Feiereisel.

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