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.