WARSAW, POLAND: Maison Charlotte Restaurant

Toward the end of my recent trip to Poland, after more than a week of hotel breakfasts, it was time to venture out and find a more interesting morning meal. An admitted “breakfast snob,” I wanted something special – and I certainly found it in Maison Charlotte.

Located on the Plac Zbawiciela, three tram stops south of the main thoroughfare of Al. Jerozoliemskie along the Marszałkowska, Maison Charlotte is convenient to the many hotels near the city’s central train station and to the Centrum area.

Croque Monsieur and coffee
As you can discern from the name, the food is traditional French fare. House-baked breads, rolls, and croissants; tartines; sandwiches; quiche; salads and desserts are all on the menu. French cuisine? In Poland? Who’d have thought?

But it was indeed both authentic and quite good.

Less than three years old, Maison Charlotte has generated a lot of buzz locally, particularly among the hipsters who like to frequent the place for a glass or carafe of house wine in the evenings. The weather was too cool to enjoy sitting outside during my late February visit, but the vibe inside was warm and welcoming – at least as much as it can be within the bounds of typical French aloofness.

Inside seating
The room has a communal table that seats slightly more than a dozen, as well as tables for two and four, and stools along the window, looking out on the square. In all, the room seats about 50 guests.

For breakfast on my first visit, I chose a Croque Monsieur - a grilled ham and cheese sandwich that uses a cheese sauce made with Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses – a croissant, coffee and a glass of Beltoure, a French white sparkling wine from the Loiré region.

The Croque Monsieur was on point: warm, melty cheese on top, tender ham sitting between two slices of toasty bread with a thin layer of Dijon mustard. I’m betting it was Maille or another French brand several notches up from the ubiquitous Grey Poupon. The croissant was fresh and flaky on the outside, tender and moist on the inside. Served with white chocolate, dark chocolate and raspberry spreads, it was more carbs than I needed, but who cared? It was delicious!

Pain perdu, coffee and sparkling wine
On my second visit, I indulged in authentically French, French toast - pain perdu - with more coffee, another croissant and more Beltoure. Don’t judge; I was on vacation.

Service was as good as any I had while in Poland, which is to say rather casual by American standards. I was greeted promptly on both visits, my orders taken quickly and the food served swiftly. However, second cups of coffee (at an additional charge) or ordering additional food items required flagging down my server, as servers in Poland don’t check back very often. Finally, when one is ready to leave, you have to ask for the bill, which is not dropped off automatically as in North America.

Croissant with coffee and spread
Part of the reason for that practice is so that guests do not feel rushed, and dropping off the check would communicate that it’s time to leave. Dining in Poland can be a much more leisurely experience than in the U.S. or Canada. In deference to my Polish roots, breakfast one morning took 45 minutes and a full hour on the other. A fine, low-key way to ease into one’s day.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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