When chef Alain Roussel is asked his secret, he usually replies with, “There is no secret; there are only mysteries.”
It's hard not to have an ongoing gastronomic affair with Paris. Obligatory stops at Gontran Cherrier and Stohrer for flaky, buttery croissants and kouign amanns. Chez Janou for the best chocolate mousse on the planet. Huitrerie Régis for phenomenal oysters and wine. La Jacobine for the best onion soup in the city. Picnicking in Jardin des Tuileries with a baguette and charcuterie spread. The list goes on and on, and after a trip to Marché des Enfants Rouges last year, I found the best sandwich in all of Paris—a sandwich so magnificent, I’d go further in calling it one of the best sandwiches in the entire world. (Many people agree.)
Last winter, a quick stroll through Marché des Enfants Rouges, the oldest covered market in Paris (it dates back to 1628), led me to uncover Chez Alain Miam Miam’s wildly popular sandwich stall. (Miam is how the French say “yum.”) There, a long line of hungry tourists and locals patiently waited in line for chef Alain Roussel’s simple, savory creations.
With around 25 years of baking under his belt, Roussel opened Chez Alain Miam Miam in September of 2005 with the intention of making simple but extraordinary sandwiches and crepes and freshly baked bread. “My recipes are the same from the beginning—sandwiches, cakes, sweet pancakes, vegetarian cones—I have not changed the composition of my recipes. Every day I propose the same menu with the same offerings,” he says.
After surviving my first 90-minute wait and living to tell the tale, I've been back since with an even longer queue of two hours, where I learned a simple trick: grab some cheese and wine from a neighboring stall to curb the hunger pains and mingle with the folks in line. “I recognize that it can be very long—it is necessary to come well-accompanied, or it is also an opportunity to meet other people during this waiting time,” says Roussel.
Be prepared to wait between one to two hours for this sandwich. People immediately ask if it’s really that good. The answer is always yes. The toasted sandwich (à la plancha) is the ultimate treat. It’s loaded with Comté or Cantal cheese (Roussel routinely offers samples of both), caramelized onions, shredded carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, avocados and fresh herbs. “Why are my sandwiches so good,” he asks. “I think we have to ask those who eat them. It's the quality of the products I use, I think—organic vegetables and homemade products.” For those seeking a gluten-free alternative, the savory buckwheat crepe is stuffed with all of the above.
A friend from Georgia visited the stall on Thanksgiving around 11:30 a.m., reporting back that there was no line. “Chez Alain was still doing his prep work, and it was only the two of us while he made my sandwich,” says Sam McRae. “As far as taste goes, the sandwich was fantastic. You could tell the ingredients were high quality—the grilled bread, meat, cheese and veggies all melded together like a big messy flavor bomb. To be honest, I made a mess eating the sandwich but didn't care. I had borrowed one of the neighboring vendor's table—and was told curtly in French to move on. But by that point, the damage was done, and the sandwich was gone.”
Roussel suggests visiting during the morning hours to avoid the crazy wait that usually takes place between noon and 3 p.m. The stall is currently open for business Wednesday through Sunday.
“Chez Alain crafts each hefty sandwich with pure passion, and it shows,” says Jenn Chan, a recent visitor from Chicago who also experienced the long wait. “There is always a glorious long line wrapped around this no-frills food stand, but don't be discouraged. Once you sink your teeth into one of his toasty creations—filled to the brim with organic vegetables, mouth-watering meats and savory cheeses—you'll quickly realize it was a worth the wait."
Part of the experience is the wait, believe it or not, as Roussel speaks to each customer and carefully crafts each sandwich to ensure it’s perfect. “I take the time to make the sandwich as it should be good, and I like to establish a relationship with everyone,” he says. “It takes a little time because everyone takes the time to choose the ingredients that he/she wants for their sandwich and the time to taste and choose the cheese.”
When asked his secret from visitors, he usually replies with, “There is no secret; there are only mysteries.” The wait will be entertaining at the very least.