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Of all the American writers living in Paris during the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway was one of the few who had to work for a living rather than living on family wealth. This made him a genuine starving artist, hence the source of many of the famous stories of the period that revolved around actual café food as well as café society -- like the true tale of how, during one particularly impoverished interlude when even the 35 cents it then cost for a coq au vin dinner was difficile, the big-game hunter had dined instead on pigeon de la public park near his home. More unforgettable to foodies, fortunately, was his delicious description of the simple yet savory meal he'd had when a paying assignment came through: fat homemade pork sausages sauced with mustard, atop mounds of warm potato salad glistening with good oil.
That was at famous Brasserie Lipp, but today's starving South Florida writers can enjoy the same "moveable feast" of saucisson and homemade potato salad with red onion oil (rather than gloppy mayo) at Á La Folie, an authentically French-feeling café. The young owners are from Toulouse, though, so the snacks, if simple, go beyond Parisian café classics into creative takes on regional fare. Salads, for instance, include the Nordique des Lords (smoked salmon, tomato, potato salad, oranges, walnuts, almonds, and cream) and a southwestern Landaise with duck and red onions confits plus truffle mousse. Sandwiches include a very tasty Provençal pan bagnat; while not served on the typical round roll of Nice, the mix of tomato, cucumber, anchovies, hard-boiled eggs, peppers, olives, and tons of tuna had plenty enough oil so that the crusty baguette was imbued with flavorful juices.
La Folie's specialty, though, is crêpe -- not a rare commodity these days, but usually nonauthentic ice cream/chocolate sauce-drenched affairs that aren't very good. Folie's are. The sweet crêpes, made of regular delicate white flour, range from a basic butter-and-sugar model for $2.25 to $5 and $6 models like the bordaleque with caramelized pears and homemade almond cream. The buttered citron/sucre crêpe, with fresh lemon juice balancing the sugar, is especially nice ... and better yet topped with whipped cream for an extra $1.25. But the savory crêpes are truly special, made, as is traditional, with sarrasin, a black buckwheat flour, almost extinct in France twenty years ago. The greater body afforded the thin pancake by this grain allows fillings as formidable as Dijonnaise (chicken and potatoes in mustard cream sauce) or veau normande (veal and mushrooms sauced with cream and Calvados). The substantial yet fashionably manageable "total" (ham, egg, mushroom, and cheese) really is a complete crêpe-wrapped breakfast for $7, including a mustard-dressed side salad.
516 Espanola Way
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Region: South Beach
Open daily 9:00 a.m. to midnight "at least."
To wash it all down, there is unfortunately no café pression, the typical French coffee made in a press pot, nor does the Folie serve the most typical Breton crêpe accompaniments: lait ribot (a yogurt drink similar to Indian lassi) or hard cidre. In fact there's no alcohol served. But the espresso's strong, the orange juice freshly squeezed, and the lemonade and chocolate drinks homemade.
Getting to this tiny tiled-and-old-wood spot (that looks like it's been around since Hemingway's day, but it's really been open less than a year) will make patrons feel more like French Foreign Legion fighters than writers, given the Sahara-like piles of dusty construction rubble on this stretch of Española Way these days that occasionally cause slight sand-fly invasions of the café's interior. Additionally the place doesn't take credit cards. But good café classics at very good prices, served up with a relaxed stay-all-day spirit that's almost too friendly to be French (or Parisian, anyway), make these inconveniences seem minor.