Why you should care
Because anything that’s stood the test of three centuries might actually be worth your time.
Traveling overseas, you hear all kinds of outrageous things, and about 50 percent of them fall squarely under the rubric of “having fun with Americans.”
So we try to keep our wits about us: We don’t pronounce Leicester ”Lie-Chester” (it’s “Lester”); we don’t kiss the Blarney Stone (unless you like urine); and we avoid three-card monte wherever we go. So when a friend claims that we’re going to eat at the ”oldest restaurant in the world,” it sounds exactly like it should have quote marks around it.
Except it doesn’t. Pulling up in Paris’ 6th arrondisement to Restaurant Procope, it’s refreshing to see that it doesn’t feel like it’s 328 years old and has fed everyone from Ben Franklin (the founding father, not the hot dog chain) to Verlaine. But it has, and sliding onto a red leather bench behind a table set with white linens, you start to get the sense of just how long this feeding has gone on as you take a gander at the menu. Or, maybe calf’s head casserole is currently popular all over the place and we just missed it.
In any case, Restaurant Procope, started by a 35-year-old Sicilian, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, really, seriously and truly back in 1686, is chock-full of gems. Located in a three-story townhouse, the walls of its many rooms are covered in historical artifacts and oil paintings dappled by the light of dozens of chandeliers. Instead of a single dining area, patrons can pick from intimate nooks or expansive rooms in which to idle with a cup of the famous coffee or settle in for a full meal.
Chef Bernard Leprince highlights traditional French fare such as coq au vin and French onion soup or Odéon, along with fresh seafood platters. The salmon steak with tagliatelle in a creamy cheese sauce is the delight chosen for this brief meet-and-greet. Reasonably priced and reasonably quick to the table, Restaurant Procope should have the whole dining deal dialed in by now — and it does. And though much of what passed between the waitstaff and our dining companion, French publishing genius Jerome Schmidt from Editions Inculte, occurred in French, it seemed in our limited comprehension to be convivial and good-humored.
But no visit to the oldest eatery in the world would be complete without chatting with its oldest waiter. While he’s probably not older than 60, he’s amusingly full of stories and mild jibes at America when asking if we missed Coca-Cola and hamburgers. Then, smartly, cleverly and slick as all get-out, when asked who is the most famous person he’s served, he answers, “You, monsieur.”
So if you’re there? And want to be there? Our solid state recommendation: Restaurant Procope. Because 328 years of diners can’t be wrong.