Brasserie is the French term for brewery, but in actuality the French and the rest of the world use the term brasserie to describe semi-large, informal restaurants that stay open late, don’t require reservations, and may be open for several meals a day. The food is typically simple, and you can enjoy it with beer, wine, or any number of drinks. Usually the brasserie will feature a special or two each day that are typically French dishes, but the primary offerings are classics like steak and seafood.
Brasseries are much larger than bistros. The bistro tends to be a casual restaurant with only a few entrees. The Brasserie offers a more extensive entrée selection. Small bistros may have great food, and some are run by world-class chefs to showcase their food in small and intimate atmospheres. In contrast the Brasserie is not small, and frequently loud, though the food may be just as good.
The brasserie first got its start with the destruction of the nobility during the French Revolution. Chefs who had worked for the nobility still wanted to showcase their gifts and skills and began to open numerous bistros, cafes and brasseries. Importantly, the brasserie offered wine or beer with food, while many cafes did not.
While we think of each brasserie as unique, many are now operated by chain companies. The Flo chain is one of the larger brasserie companies in France, owning several well-known dining places. These include, in France, La Coupoul, Brasserie Flo, Julien, and Bofinger. Chain establishments may disappoint those who visit Paris regularly when they expect a more unique dining experience. Others argue that the food at these particular establishments is still excellent, and unlike the more exclusive bistros run by “name” chefs, and formal restaurants, it’s much easier to get a meal at a brasserie.
In addition to serving excellent entrees, the brasserie usually has several wonderful French desserts that make them worth a visit. Crème Brule and soufflés often top the list and make an excellent finish to an already good meal. Don’t forget to order french fries with grilled dishes like steak. Many argue that French fries in France are far superior to their American cousins.
The brasserie offers good food at lower prices than a restaurant. You can expect to spend between 20-70 US dollars (USD) at a brasserie for a meal. The food is typically French, beautifully prepared but is not served in the formal restaurant setting. Before dining at a Paris brasserie, or one in England, Australia or the US, inquire about reservations. In some cases, not making a reservation may mean waiting quite a while before eating, especially with some of the best-known French brasseries.