Celebrate French revolt, rebellion with Meritage's mega-paella and waiter races

More like let them eat *paella*

More like let them eat *paella* Getty Images

Sunday, July 14th will find the Twin Cities celebrating Bastille Day.

Not French? That’s okay. The day commemorates the now-French Republic’s citizens storming a prison (the Bastille) loaded with weapons, setting off what would become known as the French Revolution. Those same pointy objects were then used in service of annihilating a power structure that never served them. The angry masses won. Feudalism and the monarchy died a bloody death. Heads rolled. A nation as we know it was born. 

For a widespread proletariat uprising to succeed like that remains exceedingly rare. That's part of what makes Bastille Day so cool and inspiring, on a global scale, even in 2019. To this day, to fete the death of these tyrants, we throw parties!

For the 16th year running, Barbette will balloon into a titan of music and frites. Meanwhile Meritage and the Alliance Française have joined forces to mount a counterparty the likes of which St. Paul has never seen. Landmark Plaza will teem with food and drinks, accompanied by live music from across the French diaspora.

“We respect what Kim [Bartmann] does at Barbette,” said Meritage’s owner and head chef Russel Klein. “Ours is a lot more culturally-focused.” This includes the cuisine and the activities, from the Alliance Française offering French lessons to a (hopefully Bastille-shaped) bouncy castle to... waiter races?

“It’s the first year we’re doing it. It’s a classic Bastille Day activity.” Klein described it: Waiters compete to navigate a course in the fastest time, while carrying serving trays heavy with drinks. “Will there be prizes?” He laughed, as we seemed to together establish that there should be a prize, even though respect of one’s peers is also a trophy in and of itself. 

Most important are the consumables: beignets and crêpes and pomme frites—oh my! Hot dogs for picky children, spit-roasted porketta sandwiches, oysters on the half-shell plus a little frosé to wash it all down. Most spectacularly of all, Klein is whipping up a 100-person paella in the park. 

Asked how a mouth-watering, yet traditionally Spanish dish found its way to the Cities’ Frenchest restaurant on the Frenchest day of the year, Klein understood the confusion. “I’ve spent a lot of time in France, and every time I go to the market, there’s a huge paella. They make ten different types. In the southwest of France, you’re so close to the Basque Mountains that there’s a lot of cross-cultural stuff happening.”

Not that there were ever any proverbial cultural pitchforks being wielded here, but that’s an explanation that should put them to rest. Besides, Meritage has seafood chops to spare, and paella is the perfect dish to flaunt them while feeding the hungry masses. 

“It’ll be ready at noon,” he promised. 

See you there. 

Bastille Day 2019
Landmark Plaza, St Paul
Sunday, July 14, 
Noon to 6p.m.