The smell of sizzling butter and seared cheese hangs in the air like a cartoon finger, tempting me to order something fried and delicious. Croque monsieur or crab cake — should I go bistro or diner at this Coral Gables charmer? I am distracted by the perky young chef as she bounces through the dining room. “You know how I get it so tender?” Shannon Castrec asks a guest. “It cooks in its own fat for 24 hours.” She’s talking, of course, about her velvety duck confit. Though it’s not on the lunch menu, she’s serving it this noon to one of her loyal customers.
At Frenchie’s American Diner, it seems, everyone is a regular. The perpetually smiling husband-wife team of Gabriel and Shannon Castrec run an honest to goodness mom and pop. (Their three children can be spotted doing homework at one of the dozen four-tops in the back.) The Miami-born, French Culinary Institute-trained chef turns out first-rate food, both French and American. Her husband, a native of France’s Picardie region, skillfully manages the front of the house with a handshake, hug or kiss for all who enter. Open so far for weekday lunch and Friday night dinner plus a monthly prix-fixe dinner deal, Frenchie’s is adding Thursday nights to the schedule this month.
Ambience: The décor, set off by roughly stuccoed walls, is best described as quirky. Wooden tables are swathed in white butcher paper, chairs are covered in red vinyl, and colorful knick-knacks (a flowery watering can, a shopping bag, a baseball cap) swing from the ceiling fans. Music veering from Stevie Wonder to Spanish guitar and The Eagles contributes to the eclectic vibe.
- Irresistibly warm and crusty baguettes and ever-so-lightly salted butter
- A spot-on rotating roster of soups and daily fish specials
- Creamy butternut squash served with a sprinkle of toasted pumpkin seeds
- Onion soup with a beef stock as deep and rich as mahogany and onions so sweet and soft they melt on the tongue
- Superb sea bass seared to the color of gingerbread and served over a rustic white bean cassoulet
- Superb coq au vin
- Notably French salads with gentle, slightly salty dressing and clean composition
- Tuna niçoise
- Caesar salad with perfectly garlicky, house-made croutons
- Standout steak béarnaise
- Pencil-thin fries with a salty, hot snap and soft, puffy middle
- Moules frite with eraser-sized Mediterranean black mussels in a heady white wine sauce
- A simple, serviceable and well-handled mostly French wine list with whites nicely chilled and reds just right.
- House-made dreamy cakes, custardy ice creams and a fine rendition of chocolate mousse