La Fresa Francesa: por l’amour de familia & food

IMG_9421Right off Okeechobee Road and located in a tiny strip mall, I drove by the area daily during my teens when I lived nearby. Back then, I frequented the park across the street during the holidays. As it turns out, the annual Christmas Lights display is still held at Triangle Park by the City of Hialeah. As I drove up to La Fresa Francesa, something felt different and foreign, yet oddly comforting and familiar all at once. The nostalgia I’d been feeling disappeared once I went inside the restaurant and I felt transported somewhere far away from Hialeah. As if entering a movie set right on cue, La Vie en Rose played through the speakers above. I quickly adjusted my eyes to the dimmed lights and noticed the vintage Christmas decor. It was Christmas night, after all. Sandy, one of the owners, cheerfully greeted me right away and showed us to our table. I don’t know why, but I felt at home immediately. I’ve been back three times since then.

There’s a certain captivating je ne sais quoi about La Fresa. I still notice small details with each visit: the authentic Hialeah Race Track pitcher, the various framed art throughout the space, the rustic and mismatched finish of the table tops, the little Parisian stirrer for the coffees…all charming, all unique.

Sandy says the food is inspired by what Chef Benoit ate growing up in France and influenced by her childhood in Hialeah, “Nothing fancy or fussy here.” The couple, who met in L.A., decided to move here following a family tragedy. “When my older brother passed away from an arduous battle with cancer, I was certain my elderly dad  (90), would die from a broken heart. I wanted to be close to him and the rest of my family,” she continues. “So, from tragedy arose our sweet little place. Everyday I think of the circumstances that brought us here, and in a way it’s a little homage to his memory. Having been working in the restaurant industry for years, fine dining specifically, we wanted to build a business where we could apply our passion and knowledge.  Ben is French, and an excellent cook. The concept just came from us being who we are. I always make sure to spice up his menu ideas with a little Cuban flair! Sometimes he listens.”

He sure does listen. Smart guy! In true Hialeah-meets-Paris form, the buttery Foie Gras I ordered as my first dish to try was served atop a toasted slice of guava bread and hazelnuts: sweet and salty with an added crunch. The second time, guava granita topped the foie. The sugary slush somehow didn’t take away from the foie’s stardom, as I’d initially anticipated.
Given the quaint kitchen and staff size, orders can sometimes take a while. I usually order from the Olive Bar menu (nicoices, picholines, castelvatrano, and also the boquerones) while I wait for the appetizers to arrive. I also prefer to put my entire order in and let them course it out. It’s best to visit on a day when you aren’t rushed. Too often, we go out to dine on auto-mode. We sit, order, and mindlessly shove food into our mouths without taking a second to appreciate what’s being served. Instead, come ready to have a leisurely dinner, enjoy some wine, and savor every bite while listening to French classics. The wait is worth it!

I’ve become so attached to some of the dishes, that I find it hard to venture out and try newer ones. The Egg Cocotte (parsley, gruyere, truffle, soft baked egg), for example, can be filed under “comfort food.” The soft egg combined with the freshly baked bread (usually from ZTB) makes a perfect starter: close-your-eyes worthy every time. I certainly can’t choose a favorite between the Braised Australian Lamb Shank (accompanied by Le Puy lentils) and the Braised Oxtail. It’s like choosing a favorite child! Not happening. The Hanger Steak (topped with a 25 year aged balsamic and accompanied with a crisp, delicately-seasoned green salad) is so simple, yet prepared with an obvious edited hand.

For dessert, one word: crepes. If you follow my blog, you won’t be surprised to learn I often order the Guava Crepe. I’ve even been known to request a tad more of the guava on mine. Guilty. I was, however, shocked to be even more blown away by the Butter Crepe. It’s so easy to mask the flavor of a subpar crepe with a toppings overkill. Here, the butter is just an added touch: a delightful highlight. This flavorsome thin crepe stands on its own with just the right soft, yet firm texture. I might have to double up my order next time.

 

Service has always been personable. You might not see Benoit on the floor much while there, but you won’t have to look far to notice Sandy’s kind, passionate, and nurturing persona as she floats along every table checking in on guests. Every question you ask her is enthusiastically answered: her delivery, always spot on. Blink and you might miss a comment said in jest, but with a completely straight face. That is, until her face lights up again and you are now in on the joke. It’s no wonder so many people are enamored with La Fresa Francesa. When asked about the origin of the restaurant name, Sandy shared a funny tidbit. “When Benoit was a baby, his momma bought him little baby thong with a strawberry on the crotch. He told me this story once, so I started to call him Strawberry as an inside joke. When they met Ben, my parents could not  pronounce his name, they started calling him Fresa!” Voilà!

The restaurant initially built their serendipitous cult-like following serving up brunch and lunch dishes such as Un Cubano en Paris (braised pork, gruyere, Dijon mustard, and pickled red onions), El Orgullo de Hialeah crepe (dulce de leche and mango), and the Hialeah Helicopter Latte (will keep you up all night). Not everything has a Cuban-French twist. I’d say the majority of the dishes are more French-inspired than not. These days, as per Sandy, the brunch favorite is the French Toast, and the Quail during dinner; lunch always trends differently. I’ve yet to visit during brunch or for the Meet your Winemaker wine pairing dinner series. Rumor has it the next one will feature the Southern, Languedoc, Rousillon French region. Mental note. #2016goals

Speaking of thoughts and goals, Sandy shared a couple of her own. “Everything we do comes from the heart, from our service to our food, to the very reason we opened our little Fresa.  A tribute to life and love, being happy, and filling your bellies while we get to enjoy this beautiful life we are blessed with.” 

Although La Fresa Francesa will always strive to remain small and intimate, she mentions there might be a bit of an expansion coming this year. There is also the possibility they will be adding Sunday dinners. Given the overwhelming support the restaurant has received during this first year (not just from the Hialeah community, but by all of South Florida alike), the news will surely be welcomed with open arms. Between Benoit’s cooking and Sandy’s spark, this one’s a winner!

Que lindo es ver un restaurante de esta calidad en mi viejo Hialeah. Les deseo todo lo mejor con este proyecto y espero que sea una buena inspiración para el futuro de esta área. Ven que Hialeah si es la ciudad que progresa?

La Fresa Francesa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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