While it’s easy to think of Nice as France’s second city, the town is actually just fifth largest in the country, with a population roughly the size of Anaheim.
But the proclaimed capital of the Cote d’Azur feels like a bigger city, even with its tiny, personal pockets that feel created just for you. Those pockets make it easy to stay put and navigate the nooks and crannies of Jean-Médecin or Old Nice, while its true size and location encourage you to venture further along the bright blue shores, either North or South to still more extravagant towns and experiences.
In our six days in South France, I’d like to think we did both proficiently. From our base just off of Avenue de Verdun/Felix Faure, two blocks from the Promenade des Anglais, we enjoyed day trips to Cannes, Antibes, St. Tropez and Monaco, while squeezing in two full days in town and a trip to the Bellet wine appellation in the northwest of the city – the only urban wine appellation in France.
Our travels gave us what I hope was a rounded taste of all the area had to offer, and a strong crop of favorites among the lot. Now, it’s not to say they’re obvious picks and I’d hardly pitch them to Anthony Bourdain. But for those I love – and readers, hey, I love you – looking for simple, reliably bangin’ food abroad, this is what I give to you: The Rum & Biscuits 10 Best Foods and Drinks of South France. Bon appetit.
10. Any floral-flavored ice cream at Fenocchio
When my wife uncovered this popular gem boasting FORTY EIGHT flavors, I set out to not make the same mistake I always do with European ice cream: ordering “Cookie Dough” or some bullshit. Noooo no, this time I ordered a literal Flavor Bouquet: with six scoops I selected Jasmine, Poppy, Lavender, Rose, Orange Blossom, and Violet – taste profiles I couldn’t imagine finding anywhere in the states apart from obviously Brooklyn. And goodness, I’m so glad (and thankful to my wife – hey boo!) I did, as they were some of my favorite items in all of South France. Favorite overall, by the way, was the Violet, followed by Orange Blossom.
9. Domaine de la Source 2014 Cuveé Fuella Nera
In my new favorite super-exclusive appellation we found my favorite red of the whole trip: long-finishing, with notes of fig, lavender, and just a bit of pepper (ayyyy, we’re Willamette Valley Pinot Noir fans, so, you know…) The impressive, layered taste was hardly surprising with rosemary and thyme literally sprouting from the corners of the tasting bar. This was also the one tasting where we sprung for the pricier bottle because as great as their mid-tier red was, the difference between the two was what really let you know you had something special in your glass.
Now here’s Anthony Mackie with a magnum that I found it on Facebook:
8. Evian Fruits & Plantes
Aaand on the other end of the French beverage spectrum: Evian. But before I’m tarred and feathered for putting a multinational-produced flavored water on the Top 10 list of history’s most celebrated food culture’s second city, let me tell you A) this flavored water REDEFINES flavored water, and that’s the only cost-of-entry to make it on here, partner. My wife and I had these on a hot summer South France day after a solid six-mile walk and all they did was give us life. Take it from someone who’s run their fare share of 100-yard-dashes in his day, there is no combo in the states as smack-yo-mama refreshing, hydrating, crisp, flavorful and delicate as “Grape and rosé” or “lemon and elderflower.” Lemon and elderflower?? C’mon, man, where were these things when I needed electrolytes something awful? And for them to B) not even be available in the states? This is more than appropriate on this list. Basically two-euro fancy virgin cocktails for the whole fam.
7. La Terrasse du Plaza Accra de morue with sweet chili sauce
Yes, my second favorite hotel rooftop spot called “Terrasse” had not one but several favorite foods from my time in South France. More wildly, though, they beat a number of places in Portugal at their own game. That’s right: morue = cod, and accra = fritter (bonus that it’s the same term they use for fritters in West Africa)! For me, cod can have a bit of funk to it a lot of the time, and the fritter can get a bit soggy. These ones had the perfect, fresh, near-tempura snap, the cornmeal batter just savory enough, and the chili sauce – while hardly out-of-the-box – a welcome balancing sweet. Our lovely server was worried this would be too little for me, but it was the perfect amount of food, and just the right item to order with an ocean view, bottle of wine, and very, very bold seagulls all up in yo’ face.
6. La Terrasse du Plaza Le Tradition burger
Yes we sticking with LTdP and a 22-euro burger that may be uninspired on paper, but in fact, is explosive with flavor and texture. Stacked high on a brioche bun as only the French can do it – thick and eggy with just the right toastedness – onions, pickles, cheese, tomatoes and the juiciest, freshest beef you can picture. You’ll hear this again, but this was the first example of La Terrasse du Plaza putting me on to a food of which I am not usually a huge fan.
5. Restaurant du Bacon Petit Fours
My first encounter with these mini-desserts-after-dessert was at a windowside table at a restaurant with so many ocean views you’d have sworn they’d pull up anchor any second and be out. Restaurant du Bacon seemed as classic French as we could find on our trip, to the four servers per table (we practically had the place to ourselves on a Thursday just at the cusp of peak season), to me getting a stern cluck when I tried to our my own wine. #UncouthBruh
Soaking in the vivid colors of the surrounding gardens and tanzanite waves beyond, I took my time documenting each course that was brought to us; I savored, and sipped, and chatted. Just appreciated life, you know? Then these things came: mini-meringues and sweet wonton crackling like emptied canoli shells; chocolate chip cookie drops that melted in your mouth and my favorite by far – raspberry-topped madelines. So, so incredible: a new standard for the trip, and believe many petit fours did try to best them!
4. La Terrasse du Plaza fries
Shamelessly back to our rooftop staple! They were a unanimously epic pick for the Rum & Biscuits crew. As with burgers, fries don’t usually register with me, and yet La Terrasse du Plaza won again with these particularly memorable frites. With their unique wedge-meets-chip cut, they had the perfect balance of crispness and chewiness, and good saltiness but without overpowering of the potato. Even the oil was unique and the flavor came through. Hard to convey how addictive these things were, especially with the tangy aioli that accompanied it.
3. La Lorraine Pain au Lait
If I didn’t make it clear the description from my Niçois Bread Crawl, Pan au Lait is yet more evidence the French have their priorities straight, as they’ve given us Cuban bread in the body of a buttery Olive Garden breadstick. Tearing into that golden, glistening roll and seeing the rich, soft, starch-white dough inside is like…it’s like Christmas morning. And no one I found in Nice played Santa better than La Lorraine.
2. Deli & Cia Chocolate Chip Cookie
If I didn’t lose you with the flavored water, or with the burgers and fries from the same hotel bar, I figure I have one more chance. But look, this cookie is unlike any I had come across in the states. That’s all the boxes it needs to check, son! If it came from a train station kiosk, well, then all the more reason the rest of the world should be ashamed of ourselves.
This cookie put all of the texture choices we make in the states on notice: it was dense and chewy, thick and moist, but with a crisp – even brittle – topmost shelf. The flavor was the perfect buttery balance of salt and sugar, of boldness and lightness. I would eat it every day and nearly did: it was the only taste of South France south I doubled up on since bread and pink wine are too broad to count, and the rest of the Rum & Biscuits crew concurred.
1. Chateau de Cremat Rosé
As a famous song once said, it had to be you. Bellet Rosé, you taught me so much in our short time together – like how you can produce so little but still earn the love of millions with your impeccable quality. Sure, we take the opposite approach with the blog, but you know, search engines be crawlin’ yall!
In all seriousness, though, Chateau de Cremat turned me from a fan to a Stan with wines that were floral but powerful; fragrant and citric, not fruit-heavy and syrupy. The rosés of the region and of this vineyard in particular have set a new bar, and also taught me to always keep an eye out for the seal: Recoltant. According to wine supplier, ivinio, it means that the entire manufacturing process is handled by the individual vintner (instead of outsourcing grapes, for example). Under this seal is always the best flavor.
And so there you have it. The Rum & Biscuits Best of the Best. No Salade Niçoise, doe? Nah, bruh, sorry. Bouillabaisse? Not so much. Socca? Had it, loved it, but not Top Ten. No, you may not have in the above a guidebook of South France in 10 Plates, but what I promise you do have are two handfuls of the most reliable, most bar-raising, category-redefining items that three discerning millennials could find in five French cities in less than a week. Items that you just can’t find in the states – for some of which you can’t even find imitations.
I’m grateful for having written this now two weeks removed from the trip, as the evidence of its impact is clear from how these French streets, boardwalks, and terraces, and all the incredible food and wine they had to offer refuse to leave my mind. Here’s hoping I’m back there soon, and hoping the same for yall!