Le Petit Café in Dania Beach is one of those cozy restaurants that slips under the radar without a good word-of-mouth network like the one that has patrons flocking to this easy-to-miss nook. On our weekend visits, we arrived as crowds of mostly older patrons, a good many French Canadian, finished their sunset dinner specials (an excellent deal at $22.95).
For 17 years, Christian and Marilyse lePadellec have been serving traditional dishes like escargot, house-made pâté and beef bourguignon in their charming storefront French-American cafe with floral curtains, country cupboards and twinkly lights.
The couple grew up in the same part of Brittany in northwest France. With $50 in his pocket, Christian left in 1976 to assist a French chef at a Delray Beach restaurant. He sharpened his skills in New York City before returning to South Florida to cook and then open his own place with Marilyse. She works the front of the house with the help of an attentive server while he mans the kitchen.
At $25.95 to $29.95, entrees may seem a little pricey for a small place, but they’re served with three sides and include soup du jour or salad and French bread.
The salad — mixed greens, sliced tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers with a watercress garnish and creamy Dijon mustard dressing on the side — is just fine, but we love the soups du jour.
One evening it was a garden-fresh watercress purée with onion, celery and potatoes. Always on the menu, hearty French onion with a savory but not overly salty dark stock topped with Gruyère is worth ordering even as the weather warms, and refreshing vichyssoise (cold potato-and-leek soup) is perfect on a South Florida night.
We happily dived into a terrific Coquille St. Jacques, with delicious scallops, shrimp, sole (or monkfish or grouper) and mushrooms cooked in a rich béchamel sauce, served au gratin in a scallop shell. It’s a dish that’s hard to find here, especially so well-executed.
The pâté, a combination of liver, beef and pork, arrives in two large slabs garnished with crisp, tart cornichons and plated with sliced tomatoes and onions. Escargot brings six snails in a fragrant garlic-butter sauce with a splash of Pernod.
The café offers a long list of inexpensive crepes — square, crisp shells are so light they seem to float. We enjoyed them with a chunky ratatouille of tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini and chicken with béchamel that could have used more sauce.
Entrees are especially impressive. The rainbow trout meunière is skillfully cooked, served in a lovely sauce of white wine, herbs, lemon and a touch of butter that complements the naturally sweet, mild fish. Like all our entrees, it came with a homey vegetable trio of Lyonnaise potatoes, nicely steamed sliced carrots and green beans that were a little wimpy.
Our Francophile friends were thrilled to find frogs legs, simply and perfectly sautéed with a little garlic, lemon, herbs and white wine.
Boeuf bourguignon is so often disappointing at local restaurants, but not here, where we got a bowl of tender, flavorful beef in a red wine sauce with mushrooms. A daily special of well-seasoned rack of lamb was also very good, served with a bordelaise sauce.
The cafe offers beer (including the French brew,Kronenbourg) and a small list of French wines. Our first two choices, a Vouvray and a Rosé d’Anjou, were sold out so we shifted to red, a 2008 Côtes du Rhône ($34).
Desserts include many crepe concoctions, house-made pastries and sundaes. Our favorite was the crepe Suzette, filled with orange marmalade splashed with Grand Marnier and flambéed at the table — sweet, like this small café.
If you go
Place: Le Petit Cafe
Address: 3308 Griffin Rd., Dania Beach
Rating:★ ★ ★ (Very Good)
Contact: 954-967-9912, www.lepetitcafedania.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 4:30-10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday
Prices: Appetizers $4.95-$8.25, entrees $25.95-$29.95, crepes $8.25-$10.50, desserts $4.95-$9.75, sunset special (4:30-6:30 p.m., three courses plus coffee or tea) $22.95.
FYI: Free lot parking. Reservations recommended weekends. Beer and wine only; corkage $12. MC, VS.