Café Gourmand: Try the Mini Desserts, Coffee, and People-Watching at These 5 Paris Cafés
Got a taste for something sweet and refreshing after a day of sightseeing in Paris? Fortunately, many of the city’s famed cafés have the perfect solution: the café gourmand.
These satisfying snacks feature a scrumptious sampling of classic French desserts accompanied by a small but potent cup of coffee. Many establishments list café gourmand as an option on dessert menus, providing diners with a chance to have just a bite of several different delicacies and giving travelers an excellent culinary accompaniment to the top-of-the-line people-watching available at Parisian cafés.
Unless you're at a restaurant with set mealtimes, you don't have to order a full meal with a café gourmand, and in most cases you won’t have to pay more than the price of a regular dessert.
Actually, there are two varieties: the kind you get for dessert after a meal at a chic restaurant and the kind you get at a café any old time. If you are on the hunt for extraordinary creations featuring tonka beans or parsley granita, you will need to commit yourself to a full dinner at a restaurant with set mealtimes.
But if you just want something delish to go with an afternoon cup of coffee, the classic café or brasserie is the place for you. Here, we’re focusing on the second, more casual option, which usually costs between €8.50 and €10.50.
Expect three to five miniature versions of French classics such as crème brulée (a sort of creamy flan with a hard sugar crust), moelleux au chocolat (rich chocolate cake with melty chocolate in the middle), macarons (those light, buttercream-filled cookie things—not to be confused with the similarly named French president), a scoop of ice cream, and maybe a financier (a moist almond cake).
Another item that is almost always present in a café gourmand is a tiny fruit salad, just to give the impression you’re eating something healthy. If you’re not a coffee drinker, you can ask to substitute a cup of tea—though for some reason this may cost more.
Note that the contents of a café gourmand are subject to the whims of the chef and the availability of the goodies.
Where to try a café gourmand? Here are five tasty options in some of the city’s most walkable neighborhoods.
A belle epoque brasserie later beautified by celebrity decorator Jacques Garcia, Le Zimmer (Place du Châtelet) has been welcoming the Parisian crème de la crème since 1896. The likes of Jules Verne, Émile Zola, and Sarah Bernhardt once graced these rooms, which offer easy access to the majestic Théâtre du Châtelet just next door.
Theatergoers and other culture vultures still come for the elegant ambience and ideal location smack in the middle of the city. But what’s great about the place is that, no matter how plush the upholstery, all are welcome. Take a seat on the terrace or inside where you can admire the décor while trying the samples of crème brulée, financier, macaron, moelleux au chocolat, and obligatory fresh fruit that all come with the café gourmand.
With a ringside view of the fantastical Stravinsky Fountain (pictured above), Dame Tartine (2 rue Brisemiche) is the ideal spot to settle in after visiting the nearby Centre Pompidou. Watch Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely’s 16 colorful fountain sculptures spin and spurt as you recover from artistic overload. The eatery’s copious café gourmand includes ice cream, crème brulée, fruit, a cookie, and a tiny chocolate cake. Known for its tartines, or grilled open-faced sandwiches, this low-key café, opened in 1979, has a devoted following among artists and art lovers. Service is remarkably and consistently friendly.
The original Parisian brasseries were often run by Alsatians who brought their beer-making skills from eastern France (“brasserie” actually translates to “brewery”). For reasons that are lost in the mists of time, many of the city’s grand brasseries eventually became known for seafood—something you will not find in Alsace.
Le Suffren, following tradition, is a large service continu restaurant (meaning it serves food continuously, even outside of regular mealtimes) where you can chow down on a huge seafood plate or just sip a Perrier on the terrace, depending on your appetite and budget. The café gourmand at this convenient pit stop near the Champ de Mars and Eiffel Tower gets particularly high marks. You’ll be treated to a diminutive île flottante, or “floating island,” which features a dollop of meringue adrift on a sea of crème anglaise, plus a cream puff.
Station yourself on the spacious wraparound terrace occupying an entire corner at the intersection of avenues Suffren and la Motte-Picquet.
Place de la Contrescarpe has come up in the world since Ernest Hemingway described it in A Moveable Feast as a squalid square lined with “sad, evilly-run” establishments. Today, it’s a downright delightful place to while away a sunny afternoon, with a fountain, leafy trees, and a bundle of cafés with outdoor terraces. If passing the open market on the adjoining rue Mouffetard stirs your appetite, take a dessert break at La Contrescarpe (57 rue Lacépède). In addition to the classic crème brulée, your café gourmand will feature a panna cotta (which is Italian, but never mind) and a large, homemade almond-pistachio financier. Among your seating options: a small covered garden and an appropriately bookish interior.
The neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés was once the beating heart of the Parisian publishing industry. While most of the maisons d’édition have packed up and left in search of lower rents, there are still a few famous publishing houses clinging to their historic addresses. And at quite a number of chic cafés, well-off writers and editors still make their rounds.
This is the elegant vibe at Les Éditeurs (4 Carrefour de l’Odéon), a frequent setting for literary events and award dinners. Surrounded by bookcases filled with examples of the local literary harvest, you can nourish your mind with a novel and fill your stomach with an excellent café gourmand. The moelleux au chocolat will send you into chocolate nirvana, while the strawberry sherbet is as subtle as the cake is rich. Also accompanying your coffee: crème brulée and not one but two canelés (rum-and-vanilla-flavored caramelized pastries).