“I really wanted this to be like the French Cracker Barrel,” Sandy Sanchez said triumphantly, her radiant smile making light of a quirky vision that became a high-end reality. “I love Cracker Barrel because you get to shop and you get to eat, and what’s better than shopping and eating?”
Thankfully, Sanchez and Benoit Rablat, the owners of La Fresa Francesa Petit Café and its adjacent gourmet market, can do much better than the highway restaurant chain. Founding the restaurant in 2015 upon the suggestion of her sister, Sanchez was pleasantly surprised to find that rustic-refined French food with Cuban influences was exactly what was missing in Hialeah. Who can resist seared foie gras with local guava garnished with a Vicky Bakery pastelito?
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Just as the restaurant was starting to outgrow its intimate dining room, the space next door opened up. Rablat suggested they open a market, where customers could peruse a selection of small-production wines, fine French cheeses, artisan charcuterie and other European delicacies.
“We realized there were no gourmet markets in the area,” Sanchez said, “and we wanted to open a place where foodies like us would want to shop.”
Rare Wine Finds at La Fresa Francesa
Like their wildly popular bistro (the name is Spanish for The French Strawberry), Sanchez and Rablat’s market is an exhilarating gem in an otherwise traditional neighborhood.
‘We wanted to open a place where foodies like us would shop.’
Rablat, a chef who previously worked as a sommelier in San Francisco (“We went to every wine tasting in the city!”), curates a selection of wines from across Europe, with an emphasis on boutique vineyards from his native France. For the discerning connoisseurs who frequent the shop, Rablat and Sanchez offer some bottles so rare and special that they keep them in the back.
“We try and stay away from the usual suspects,” Rablat said, “so we can expose people to new treats.”
Even the Dog is French
Alongside a selection of wines, the market offers the typical sundries you’d find in a corner market in the south of France: onyx-colored Le Puy lentils, freshly whipped butter from Normandy, and a selection of charcuterie, cheeses and olive oils sourced from Spain, France and Italy.
One of Sanchez’s favorite olive oils, chartreuse in color and rich in flavor, goes for $22 per bottle, a veritable bargain. The shop also has started to bring in housewares and trinkets — Laguiole cutlery, crystal etched glassware and Art Deco-inspired Parisian tins.
Coinciding with the restaurant’s hours, the market is open from Wednesday through Sunday. Sanchez and Rablat frequently host wine tastings, often inviting the winemakers themselves to present their vintages and educate guests.
Who else might you find scattering about the couple’s intimate market? A dainty little French poodle named Valentine, who makes the experience of shopping at La Fresa Francesa feel as cozy as home.
La Fresa Francesa, 59 West Third Street, Hialeah; 786-717-6886; facebook.com/lafresafrancesa.