If you’re asked to name great French sandwiches, your short list will most likely include contenders like pan bagnat, saucisson sec (salami) on a baguette, or even a tartine or croque monsieur (if we were to stretch the sandwich definition a bit). . Chances are, a Lower East Side-inspired pastrami on rye or a lobster roll (more at home in Maine than Le Marais) doesn’t come to mind. Well, it turns out that chef and restaurateur Moïse Sfez’s passion for American gourmet street food and culture has turned these two iconic American sandwiches into some of the most sought-after and acclaimed gastronomic finds in Paris, or maybe even in France.
I recently headed out to meet Sfez at the flagship of his newest concept, Janet by Homer, which opened in January 2022 on Rue Rambuteau in Paris’s Marais district (4eme arrondissement). Among the things that caught my eye when I arrived at Janet’s was a small space with only counter seating and the sheer ecstasy of each customer enjoying their meal.
I got into my delicious hot pastrami, boiled, smoked and cured for ten days with the Sfez spice recipe. Instead of serving it on classic rye bread, it took Sfez eight months to develop a rye brioche bread, putting a decidedly French twist on this New York Jewish sandwich gem in an Eastern European way. As I ate, Moïse told me about his obsession with American sandwiches that led to his growing success in France.
From his teens, Sfez told me, “I loved the American culture, mindset, and food. I have tried to go to the US every year to discover new cities, eating in each one.” On a private family trip to New York City fifteen years ago, after hearing a lot about lobster rolls, he was determined to finally try one.. “I didn’t see any all week, and on the last day, as I was driving through Brooklyn to the airport, all of a sudden, I saw a lobster shack from the cab and yelled at the driver to get out. Stop!With the taxi waiting and the meter running, along with his father and younger brother, they took their time savoring the lobster rolls. “I knew right then that I had to make something out of lobster rolls. It was like, WOW! I loved!”
This twenty-seven-year-old Parisian enfant terrible of American sandwiches grew up in a family whose Tunisian Jewish heritage was reflected in boisterous and robust family meals, he told me. The family home in Paris was often filled with the heady aromas of meals prepared by his mother and grandmother, whom he credits for instilling in him a passion for cooking and world cuisines.
After high school, Sfez enrolled in France’s prestigious Vatel hospitality school, where he quickly rose to prominence. There he recognized his culinary and business talent. Her first apprenticeship was at the newly opened Peninsula Hotel in Paris, followed by a year in London with Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester.
“I kept the lobster roll concept in my mind,” he said. She knew his lobster rolls would depend on “using homemade brioche buns with butter and a mountain of Japanese-inspired lime zest mayonnaise, topped with celery salt.” And that’s just what he started serving pop-up at events when he was still in his last year at Vatel, and thus began the concept of “Homer Lobster”. In 2017, during his final year of hospitality school, he opened a kiosk on the corner of BHV, Paris’s leading homewares store, and four months later opened his first Homer Lobster restaurant on Rue Rambuteau. Sfez says: “It was unlike any taste we have in Paris.”
Not long after, Homer Lobster was the first street food concept invited to collaborate with the prestigious Peninsula Hotel and was subsequently offered a concession stand at the Royal Monceau Hotel. Most recently, he got an outing at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes. In 2018, Homer was awarded Celebrity Favorite in Maine’s Down East Magazine’s World’s Best Lobster Roll competition.
Having successfully implemented the lobster roll concept, Moïse told me that he “wanted to branch out and try another new concept, to offer a more affordable option than his €18 lobster roll, and for people who don’t eat seafood.” . So, he set out to identify another iconic U.S. street food concept. On his travels, he toured every city he visited to find the best delis and sample their corned beef and pastrami sandwiches.
His second “aha” moment occurred while being transported by the symphony of pastrami sandwich flavors at Katz’s Deli in lower Manhattan. He realized that this was another American flavor experience that, like the lobster roll, was unlike anything in France. “Here we have a different approach to pastrami, we think of it as charcuterie, it’s very dry, sliced thin, served cold, and in the US when you eat pastrami, it’s hot and juicy.” And that’s the experience he wanted to create for customers in Paris. After three years of recipe development, branding, and finding the right location, he finally launched Janet by Homer in January 2022.
Unlike a typical Jewish Deli, he doesn’t use classic rye bread, instead he has adapted his popular brioche recipe (from Homer Lobster) and created a rye brioche that took 8 months to perfect. He also serves a Rueben sandwich he calls “Langers,” in homage to the famous Los Angeles deli of the same name, Langer’s, which serves a version of this same classic sandwich. Served with a choice of a homemade coleslaw (savory rather than sweet) or Alsatian sauerkraut, a nod to sauerkraut, the iconic French shredded cabbage pickled in a white wine brine.
“So who is Janet?” I asked. In the tradition of American Jewish delicacies that have preserved the names of their founders, Moïse chose to name his restaurant after his grandmother (who still enjoys the sandwiches and is very proud of her accomplished and talented grandson.)
Moïse, who is not resting on his laurels, is expanding the brand. Starting this month, he offers packaged and bottled retail items, including meats, side dishes, condiments, pickles and more, available at his flagship deli at 13 Rue Rambuteau. In addition, he is trying out a hot dog concept, served with NYC-style toppings or Alsatian sauerkraut and served on a brioche bun, which he plans to turn into a new brand.
And, as if all that wasn’t busy enough, Moïse is working on a book about authentic American street food, a kind of anthropological travel book for foodies with some recipes, for which he will travel to his favorite restaurant. ghosts in the US Turns out it was a good idea that some TV producers banded together to send a crew to film their journey of liking a cable series.
Moïse Sfez is not only a tireless gastronomic entrepreneur, he is also a gracious and ever-present host. So Francophiles looking for an over-the-top sandwich experience in Paris, while enjoying a riveting chat with a Parisian Americanophile, I recommend putting one or both Homer’s Lobster and Homer’s Janet on your bucket list.
Philip Ruskin is an extern teacher (ESSEC Bus. School), consultant (food and travel marketing), writer, drummer, and regular contributor to Frenchly. He loves to ride his bike around his adopted city of Paris. find it here, On Instagram.