55 bis, Quai de Valmy, in the 10th Arrondissement. 07 62 62 27 38.
Open Tues–Fri, 10:30 a.m.–3:30, 5 p.m.–9 p.m.; Sat–Sun, 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m.
Epicerie Musicale had me even before I pushed open its door. Walking down the quai de Valmy looking for it, I heard groovy soul music wafting out of a door. Of the numerous Paris restaurants in the Canal Saint-Martin area, this is the place to go if you’re a food and music lover.
The good impression didn’t end at the doorstep. You know how in some places you feel instantly comfortable? Maybe it was the unpretentious service, the cheery Italian staff bantering among themselves or the trattoria-meets-1970s retro decor with none of that fake rusticity or cultivated hip factor. Or maybe it was simply because the other diners looked equally at ease.
Epicerie Musicale is part Italian grocery store, part restaurant. One feels like one has walked into an Italian pantry, with cold cuts, cheeses, pasta, rice, tomato sauces, olive oils, jams, condiments, biscuits, coffee, wines, etc., scattered about. What it may lack in terms of choice, it makes up for in quality. The Italian owners make it a point to stock choice products from small regional producers and unusual items. I spotted olive oil from a prize-winning producer as well as Sicilian pistachio paste. You can even pick up Calabrian olive oil made by the owner’s uncle.
That said, the selection of cold cuts and cheeses is wide and excellent. In addition to prosciutto, speck and bresaola, there’s also DOP nduja di Spilinga (a spicy salami in paste form), Calabrian spianata (spicy flattened sausages) and a variety of salami and finocchiona (fennel seed–studded salami) from the famed Falorni butcher’s shop in Chianti. Cheeses are just as varied, ranging from DOP Gorgonzola from Lombardy to Castel formaggio medievale from Venice. I know where I need to come the next time I plan to make pizza.
Most of these meats and cheeses find their way into the food on offer. There is no real kitchen, so dishes are limited to food that can be assembled behind the counter. That is not a problem when ingredients are good and food is freshly prepared, and I’ll take that any day over microwaved food from a menu pages long. Entrées include salads, warm crostini and carpaccio, while mains would be plates of cold cuts and cheeses. Also offered are piadina and focaccia.
The advantage of the deli status is that I was still able to order food even though it was past 2 p.m. My fennel sausage and spinach focaccia was delicious (even if the focaccia, custom made by a neighboring boulangerie, had spent a tad too long on the grill). It came with a generous salad that was not the sort of an afterthought of a salad commonly found. For just 6 euros, you could do worse, much worse.
The other unusual element of Epicerie Musicale is that the food shares shelf space with vinyl records! There is even a record player right next to the food counter, and the cook-cum-DJ seems to be as preoccupied with the choice of music as he is with food preparation, deliberating over the next record to spin. When I asked him which came first—food or music—he replied that both passions go hand in hand. He was an architect in a previous life, and it shows. From the Formica furniture to the lamps and vintage objects (look out for the black ravens—is there an Edgar Allan Poe fan in the house?), the personality of the place is such a refreshing change from the ubiquitous insipid steel-and-glass look. This personality extends to the music.
Perhaps I just happen to also like jazz and ’70s soul, but I could have happily lingered the whole afternoon here (and what I would have given to thumb through the music collection; maybe requests are taken?). Epicerie Musicale also does cocktails and brunch, and occasionally holds events.
In a nutshell: Good food, charming decor and, rarer still, great music. It’s hard to ask for more.
Price check: Entrées are 8–12 euros; mains are 12–18 euros; Italian coffee is 1 euro. Lunch menu and brunch available.
If Epicerie Musicale sounds good, you might also like le Verre Volé. Read the review.
Le Verre Volé
67, rue de Lancry, in the 10th Arrondissement.
01 48 03 17 34. Lunch and dinner daily.