First Bites

Café Pastis Downtown Does French Right

Try to find a quick French lunch downtown and you're faced with a rubbery baguette layered with industrial Brie and some overly salted, greasy saucisson sec.

No more. Chef Philippe Jacquet has expanded his much-loved, longstanding Café Pastis in South Miami to a downtown Miami street whose lunchtime cafés constantly play musical chairs while plying mediocre food to the office crowds. Just past noon, five tables of French speakers flood in, order glasses of white wine, and fire up cigarettes.

All it takes is a bite of quiche to know this place is different from the rest. On a recent weekday afternoon, the special is an ethereal quiche Lorraine ($10.50) fluffed up by heavy doses of cream and Gruyère cheese. The crust is some combination of pastry and biscuit that's flaky, crisp, buttery, and light all in the same moment.

"I just try to do things the right way," Jacquet explains in a light French accent that barely hints of his hometown of Marseille on France's southern coast. 

It's been nearly two decades since Jacquet moved to Miami and set up a shoebox of a restaurant on Red Road that offers homemade duck pâté studded with black peppercorns ($11.50), also available downtown, and a rich, slow-roasted lamb shank perched atop baked lentils and doused in a citrus sauce and ($24.50).

The fare is exactly what you'd expect from a Paris-trained chef, however trite that may sound. Jacquet has long been lauded for classic French bistro fare. His bouillabaisse, founded on a rich fish stock perfumed with saffron and fennel, is filled with mussels, shrimp, langoustine, and either grouper or red snapper. A creamy rouille — a garlicky red-pepper mayonnaise — rides alongside for dipping. 

Just like the original, Jacquet's downtown place sports yellow walls bearing paintings reminiscent of Toulouse-Lautrec's iconic glimpses of Parisian nightlife. Sure, you could spend hours here swilling wine, but taking down a hefty croque-monsieur ($8.50) — built on two thick slices of country bread drenched in béchamel and broiled until the Gruyère forms a bubbly, caramelized crust — is the next best thing.

Café Pastis is located at 22 NE Third Ave. and is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 2:30 p.m. 

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson