When I’m in Florida, where I have a vacation home, I eat out every night. It tends to get monotonous after a while, and it is rare that a restaurant stands out. How many sharing menus can one endure, where the food comes out ”when it is ready” BS, and the portions are minuscule, so you have to order at least 3-4 dishes. Then the prices start to climb to another level.

How refreshing to visit the charming, kitschy and eclectic Fresa Francesa at 59 West 3rd Street in Hialeah in the Miami metropolitan area. Yes, I said Hialeah. It is only about another twenty-minute drive from all the other places I frequent in Wynwood or the Design District, and it is well worth the trip.

Fresa Francesa was created by Chef Benoit Rablat and his adorable wife Sandy Sanchez, the same couple that brought us my favourite neighbourhood restaurant, Silverlake Bistro in Normandy Isles. Chef Ben, a self-taught chef from France, and his wife Sandy, of Cuban descent, met when they both worked at the Michelin starred Osteria Mozza in LA. They fell in love and moved back to Miami to be near Sandy’s parents. In 2015 they started with a cute lunch spot, and due to popular demand and long lineups out the door expanded into a dinner spot with a second space and then took over a third-place when the opportunity came and voila you have Fresa Francesa, serving southern home country French cooking with a little inspiration from the city’s regional Cuban cuisine. Everything is homemade and made to order, except the bread, which comes from Sullivan Street Bakery.

The restaurant is in a strip mall in Hialeah, don’t let the location fool you. This is the best thing to ever happen to Hialeah. But the word has spread and people drive from all over South Florida to dine here.

Sandy has made their place warm and welcoming on a budget, with rustic bistro tables and chairs, pistachio tinted walls, antique crystal chandeliers, lace doilies, cut crystal glasses, and tiny flower arrangements on each table. Knickknacks are everywhere, along with toile, replicas of famous paintings, and twinkle lights strewn across the ceilings.

But the food is where this place really shines. It isn’t often when I say that I enjoyed every single thing I ordered. From the daily specials to the well-curated menu, the food is soulful, luscious and delightful. There is even a gourmet market where you can take home French wines, cookies, crackers and pâtés.

We began our meal with a voluptuous piece of foie gras, under a crispy and flaky pastelito, a nod to Sandy’s Cuban heritage, with Redland guava, and pistachios. The combination is a winner. Next up, we tried a daily special of cheese fondue, using a French cheese, with a little onion, and a side of honey to drizzle on top of the French baguette. It was sinfully decadent and worth every calorie. The chef also sent over a creamy escarole soup, dotted with roasted hazelnuts.

My entrée was a roasted quail stuffed with veal and bacon, on a bed of honey butternut squash. Talk about me being sublimely happy with this comfort dish. But my husband thinks his duck leg confit, on a parsnip purée, with pear mostarda was the winner for us. Either choice and you can’t go wrong.

If this wasn’t good enough, Chef Benoit also excels at French crepes for dessert. There are about a half a dozen choices but I went with a classic one made with salted Normandy butter. It has been a while since a dish made me swoon, but this one sure did. I didn’t want to share but wanted it all for myself. However, the warm raspberry tart with a beautiful buttery cookie base was also a standout. We topped this all off with a gift from the kitchen, an espresso cup filled with rice pudding that was flavored with some orange rind.

There are a few cocktails on offer as well as a decent selection of wines.

Fresa Francesa surpassed my expectations. From the warm greeting of Sandy and her staff to masterful food coming out of Chef Benoit’s kitchen, I was totally seduced by my dreamy meal. Fresa Francesa is a little gem that is worth exploring.

Recommend with enthusiasm.

Happy dining,
Shanea

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