La Fresa Francesa Petit Café puts a piece of Paris in Hialeah

Benoit Rablat and Sandy Sanchez run La Fresa Francesa in Hialeah. Photo by Linda Bladholm

Most people think of Hialeah as a largely Cuban-American community serving up nostalgia, but the 5-month-old La Fresa Francesa Petit Café adds a new quirk: French food. 

From cheese plates and charcuterie to savory and sweet crepes, La Fresa Francesa presents it all in a small space with a bohemian feel from gilt-edged mirrors, a barnlike exposed-beam ceiling and a glass chandelier over an antique chest filled with bottles of wine. The soundtrack is mostly big band, which sets the mood perfectly.

Owners Sandy Sanchez and Benoit Rablat met in Los Angeles, where they both worked at Osteria Mozza, owned by Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Nancy Silverton. 

Sanchez is a Cuban-American native of Hialeah — the name means “upland prairie” in the Seminole Indian language. Hialeah, the sixth-largest city in Florida, is located on a large prairie between Biscayne Bay and the Everglades. 

Sanchez headed to the West Coast to pursue an acting career, but ended up mostly waiting tables and becoming a wine expert. 

Her partner, Rablat, grew up cooking in a Paris suburb. In 2008 he moved to Los Angeles and ran a crepe shop near Venice Beach before working at the Italian place where he met Sanchez. 

They came to Miami several years ago so Sandy could be near her aging parents. In May, the French Strawberry was born, named for Rablat’s baby nickname as he was as plump as a ripe strawberry. 

Be sure to get a mimosa served in an old coupe glass to go with goat cheese rolled in crushed pistachios and honey on frisee with toasted slices of baguette. Bacon-wrapped dates are stuffed with blue cheese, and a recent special of foie gras came with mango and pecan bread. 

Starter salads include baby kale with pine nuts and grated pecorino cheese, or shaved brussels sprouts with parmesan, hazelnuts and dates. 

Sandwiches like the Cubano in Paris reflect the restaurant’s French sensibilities and Hialeah roots, pairing tender strands of braised and pulled pork on a bun with Gruyere cheese, Dijon mustard and house-pickled red onions.

Another blend of both worlds: foie gras avec pastel de guayaba, a seared lobe of liver served inside an open-face guava pastelito.

A classic croque monsieur features French ham, bechamel and Gruyere (to make it a croque madame, ask to add a fried egg). More French influences come through in a brie and pear sandwich with housemade pear jam and arugula, and Le Canard Provencal with duck confit, herbs de Provence, anjou pear, greens and feta cheese. 

Savory crepes known as galettes made with dark grayish-brown buckwheat flour are folded into a square like a handkerchief filled with wild mushrooms, Gruyere, garlic and shallots or pan-roasted chicken breast, button mushrooms and creme fraiche. Or go with smoked salmon with sour cream, dill and capers with a side of small cubes of oven-roasted potato with house aioli. 

Another recent special was salt-cod brandade, starting with the fish being simmered in milk and water with bay leaves, thyme, cloves and peppercorns, then being flaked and roughly mashed with potatoes moistened with garlic-infused olive oil and a little cream.

The couple just returned from a trip to Paris, Toulouse and Montpellier in the south of France, where they visited Benoit’s mother and aunt with Sanchez’s Cuban mom along for the sampling of everything from crispy-skin salmon with apricot aioli to duck breast with parsley puree. 

Versions of those dishes will go on La Fresa Francesa’s new dinner menu of about 15 items, available starting this weekend. 

They also are serving high-quality charcuterie and cheese plates; hanger steak with a selection of mustards sourced on the trip to France; roasted bone marrow served on the bone with toast, garlic confit and celery leek salad in lemon vinaigrette; and housemade pastas. 

A cassoulet is also in the works, so stay tuned for this Gaelic work in progress. 

Sweet crepes range from the most basic with sugar and butter to Nutella with bananas or strawberries (or both). There’s also the Hialeah with dulce de leche and mango. 

Another special that shows up often is the bananas flambé French toast made with egg bread in rum sauce with pecans topped with dollops of buttery, double cream mascarpone — good with a pot of green ginger tea or red currant iced tea at this welcome slice of France in a mostly Cuban outpost of Miami.

Linda Bladholm: lindabladholm75@gmail.com

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