October 24, 2014

Florida Life

Florida's French Connection

Across the state, diners are embracing brasseries and alfresco dining options

Chris Sherman | 8/1/2010
Cassis American Brasserie
Dining alfresco at Cassis American Brasserie in St. Petersburg [Photo: Bluelucy]

Downtown St. Petersburg now has two (count ’em, deux) brasseries. The newest is a multimillion-dollar blaze of black and white tile, classic Thonet chairs, dramatic new architecture and frites, frites, frites.

Bar steak frites at Cassis
Bar steak frites at Cassis
Three months after opening, Cassis American Brasserie has filled a once stagnant corner of Beach Drive with dozens of busy sidewalk tables and a stunning bistro interior busy until midnight.

The initial menu is light French cooked from scratch: Mandatory steak frites, croque monsieur, duck confit over lentils and great crusty breads as well as modern additions like a Philly cheesesteak spring roll. That too makes sense since chef Jeremy Duclut worked at Le Bec Fin, the grand French restaurant of ... Philadelphia.

The most immediate draw may be the gleaming interior, with a covered ceiling and subway-tiled columns that have a Parisian feel. Seating 185 inside and 150 out, it’s not intime but open and lively. The broad public space and tall panoramic windows and easy view across the room to the bar create a lively see-and-be-seen street life inside as well as on the sidewalk.

Cassis
Cassis has a Parisian feel. [Photo: Bluelucy]
That’s what architect Lisa Wannemacher and French husband Philippe Berriot wanted in her design, after many trips to Europe. They already have customers hang out all day, from afternoon espresso or wine on the sidewalk to dinner inside and then onto the bar. “We have some people staying five hours!’’ she says.

“In France, we have streets, avenues, with many restaurants,’’ says Berriot. When he came to St. Petersburg 12 years ago, “there was not three, not two restaurants then — there was only one with tables on the sidewalk.’’

The first taste of the new comfort-French accent casual dining arrived downtown six months ago at Central Avenue’s St. Pete Brasserie, which is smaller but has its own sidewalk tables and a full French helping of duck breast, cassoulet, mousses and onion tarts.

The moves underscore a lesson Florida restaurants are learning from less sunny cities: People love to sit outside. And, says Tyson Grant, chef at Parkshore Grill on Beach Drive, “There’s room for more.’’

Alfresco Flavors

Mi Tomatina
Mi Tomatina, Winter Park
[Photo: Matt Culverhouse Photography]
Sidewalk sipping and supping is expanding across Florida.

» Winter Park: Mi Tomatina/Paella Bar dishes out Spain’s famous dish and a big splash of art in Hannibal Square, the hip side of posh Park Avenue. It’s tiny, with tables tiled in the style of Joan Miro. Paellas from wild mushrooms to lobster and chorizo are big enough for two or three ($32 to $46).

» Miami Beach: The Lincoln Road scene now has Shake Shack, the New York City burger phenomenon, to boost its sidewalk crowds, literally. The shack, which began as a concession stand updated by NYC’s top restaurateur is as famous for its long lines as its retro Shackburgers and frozen custard.

» EPCOT: Belgian mussels and Korean lettuce wraps will be the newest bites at Disney’s 15th Food and Wine Festival, a best-selling global walk-about for foodies. They’ll join tastes of Argentina, Chile, Poland, Singapore, South Africa and Australia at the six-week party starting Oct. 1.

Tags: Dining & Travel

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