Jambon beurre sandwiches are one of the many great inventions of the French: a simple sandwich (jambon beurre means "ham butter") composed of just an excellent baguette and some slices of ham, the two ingredients sealed together with a bit of butter. Ta-da. Nothing extraneous, no cheese or lettuce or tomato or special sauce, nothing to get in the way of the basic elements. You need an excellent baguette, good ham and butter, but how hard is that?
Well, harder than it maybe should be, since many people put other stuff in their ham and baguette sandwiches. By the way, Chaumont Bakery in Beverly Hills, which makes stellar baguettes, does not make them or use any pork products - on purpose, in a nod to their large French-Jewish clientele. And although Walter Manzke says that they're "coming" to Republique (excellent baguettes, excellent charcuterie), the sandwiches aren't on the bakery menu just yet.
Of course, you can buy baguettes, ham and butter and make your own, which isn't very difficult, but might require a few too many errands for some of us. Or you can head out to these three places around town where they'll do the sourcing, cutting and spackling for you. Maybe get an espresso while you're at it. Fiat lunch.
This tiny storefront has kind of a through-the-looking-glass feel to it, like you opened a door and suddenly found yourself not in a very large, very pretty closet in Echo Park but in a tiny market in Paris. The tables are loaded with farmers market produce (gorgeous lettuces, citrus, fresh herbs) and bowls of olives, the shelves with cookbooks and pastas, the refrigerated cases with cheeses and homemade stocks, and there are terrific breads from downtown's Bread Lounge on a ledge behind the friendly cashier. There's also a case with a very large tray of terrific ham sandwiches. Built with proscuitto, butter and Bread Lounge ficelle, wrapped in a bit of paper and kitchen twine, they're the perfect to-go breakfast or lunch. The three little French kids (of course; remember you've stepped through some Gallic vortex) who were shopping with their father when I stopped for a sandwich seemed to think so too. 1549 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles; 213-250-1900.
LAMILL Coffee Boutique:
LAMILL is one of those places that you might overlook, unless you live in Silver Lake, but you really, really shouldn't. It's a wonderful coffee shop, as it should be - LAMILL being one of the best coffee roasters in town. The drinks are excellent, you can buy a siphon coffee pot on your way out, and the pastries and bakery-oriented food is wonderful. Including the ham sandwich, called, happily, the "Jambon de Paris au Beurre Sale." LAMILL's comes warm and loaded with smokey, thinly sliced French ham, salted Vermont butter - and Dijon mustard, which purists will want to request omitted. With a little ramekin of cornichons (bless them) and crisp potato chips. 1636 Silver Lake Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-663-4441.
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Little Flower Candy Co.:
Christine Moore's Pasadena cafe, bakery and candy palace has what's probably the most traditional ham and butter sandwich that we found, consisting of, well, just that. The baguette is housemade, chewy, crusty and with a great crumb, and the ham and butter are copious and basic, nothing fancy, nothing extraneous. The sandwich comes on parchment paper, with pickles, and you can take it outside and eat on the cafe tables on the sidewalk - or to-go, for a pretty excellent breakfast. But maybe the best thing to do is to eat your sandwich in the shop and stare at all the awesome stuff that Moore has managed to cram in there: the candy and books and products, and especially the bags of sea salt caramels. Because once you're done with breakfast, then it's definitely time for dessert. 1424 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; 626-304-4800.