Yesterday, it poured rain. All day and all night long. What to do in a quiet Mediterranean town on a Saturday afternoon in the off season, when you need to get out of the apartment or go stir-crazy? We decided to head to the nearby bowling alley, over in Fréjus. (Fréjus, by the way, started as a big Roman enclave back in the day; there is a Roman arena literally just down the street from the bowling alley; they've restored it in the best way possible with something that ancient, and they use it for concerts. There are other Roman ruins all over the area, too: bits of walls, columns, giant clay pots, etc.)
Only problem was, we got there an hour before opening time, and the bowling (yeah, that's what the French call it, too; just say it with more emphasis on the "ling" in your best Pepe LePew accent) is smack in the middle of a huge commercial center full of warehouses and giant stores. There's even a drive-through McDonald's a bit further down the road. Not exactly conducive to strolling around to kill an hour as there are no quaint little cafés with outdoor terrasses overlooking the sea; this is a few kilometers inland from the water's edge, and there's nothing picturesque about it.
Happily, our salvation lay nearby in a most unusal form: an American style diner attached to the bowling alley building! We'd never heard of it before, and decided to go ahead and try it even though we weren't really hungry for lunch, having slept very late and having eaten a late breakfast.
I give you: Memphis Coffee.
Let me just say: although a bit over the top, for a reproduction 1950s/Elvis-y theme restaurant, this place was remarkably good. Most of the menu aimed to truly give the American diner experience, with a few nods to French cuisine to keep the locals happy: there was Camembert in my salad, for example.
I think the name of the place was another adaptation: in French, the word diner would mean either dinner or the verb to dine, which is why I think they simply tacked on the English word coffee instead. Also, why Memphis? I think that's where Elvis came in:
But otherwise: red sparkly vinyl booths and counter stools; chrome everywhere; glasses, dishes and even the diner-style drinking straw holders; black-and-white checkerboard floor tiles; glass block along the counter/bar; neon and vintage-style signs everywhere.
A French Père Noël next to a Wurlitzer juke box.
That is one gorgeous, shiny diner booth.
The one thing you won't get at Memphis Coffee is typical American diner service. This is both a pro and a con: on the one hand, the service may be slower and a bit more disorganized than in an American diner where the staff would typically be moving very quickly to get people in and out fast; but on the other hand, in typical FRENCH fashion, no one rushes you out of your booth or table, even with a long line of rain-drenched people waiting to be served (and there really WAS a crowd in this place -- the locals must love it!) Plus, I watched the bus boy clean this booth (which we ended up being seated at) after the previous occupants left, and he cleaned everything until it was spotless! I'm not sure in the U.S. it would have been cleaned quite so well.
Note the red and yellow ketchup and mustard squeeze bottles... with American yellow mustard! The "milkshake" was "barbe à Papa" flavored... which is "cotton candy" in French: Dad's Beard!
I think I may have been the first American ever to cross the threshold, as this is not an area where you'd normally find American tourists. I told the waitress I was from the U.S. and asked her if they got many Americans there, and she said no, never. In fact, when I joked and suggested she should tell the boss there was a real, live American in the house, she smiled and said, "I already did!"
One of my favorite "finds" in this place? These NJ and PA license plates up high on one wall... next to one from New Hampshire and PANAMA. (Huh?)
Anyone recognize their plate numbers?
The food was good -- Georges had a triple-decker burger, but they offer a SIX-patty burger, can you imagine? -- and we plan to go back. Wish they had picked a better location, though, something nice along the waterfront where more people would find them and where we could walk to get there instead of having to take the car.
Wish I'd had room to try the key lime pie. But the big salad did me in.
And just in case you still weren't quite sure what the theme was supposed to be, they have flat-screen TVs around the walls, looping soundless episodes of "Happy Days". Georges says that series was quite popular in France. (How sad for me that I recognized the episode where Fonzie gets stage fright singing with Richie's band, and Laverne and Shirley were the backup singers; but at least it wasn't the Fonzie-jumps-the-shark-episode which was the series low-point.)
Georges spotted a web address -- www.memphis-coffee.com -- on the paper placemat, and discovered that this is a chain that's already all over France with more locations coming soon, including one at Paris-La Villette. They don't serve all-day breakfast so I don't think they'll put the Parisian favorite, Breakfast in America, out of business. But why not a bit of American diner-chic in Paris?
Doooo wap, wap.