If you detect an artsy, free-spirited vibe when you enter Café Moderne, the weeks-old café on the 500 block of Clematis Street, it might be because the downtown West Palm Beach spot has a couple of siblings in Key West.
Café Moderne’s proprieters also own La Creperie and VIV wine bar in the carefree southernmost city. They landed in West Palm sometime after Hurricane Irma’s winds battered the Florida Keys, their decision finalized during the storm, as they sought shelter in Georgia.
So, thank you, Hurricane Irma, for helping to bring Breton-style galettes – savory buckwheat crepes – to Clematis Street. They’re thin, crispy, almost lacy crepes, and they’re stuffed with any of eight combinations of fillings. The galettes ($14) share a modest but exquisite menu of French café items, from cheese and charcuterie boards to quiches and omelets to salads and croque-style sandwiches to sweet crepes.
Along with the French café items, the owners brought an art gallery concept to the large, two-room restaurant space that once housed Cabana Nuevo Latino Restaurant.
Not only can diners view the vibrant works of South Florida artist Tom De Vita, they can sign up for “Sip and Paint” nights.
As for the menu, Toulouse-born owner Laurent Grimm, who runs the café with this Belgian wife, Julie de Cock, says he is committed to using organic and local ingredients “as much as possible.” And he’s been known to run to Whole Foods for a last-minute ingredients, whatever he does not find in local farms or get from his organic goods purveyors.
“We are crazy. We are picky people. We know what we want to eat and we don’t cheat with ingredients,” the affable Grimm told me by phone this week. “I am French.”
The couple hired chef Aaron Arruda, a former Marine who earned his culinary chops in the Los Angeles area.
“He is American but he is in love with French cooking,” says Grimm. “This morning we made some pate and rillettes for this weekend.”
In addition to the café classics, kitchen confections here are eclectic. A glance at Café Moderne’s social media sites reveals specials such as mixed grilled meat plates, coq au vin, Kashmiri chicken skewers and beer-braised Toulouse sausage.
But the best gateway dish to the heart of this café is a supremely stuffed buckwheat galette, inspired by the traditional crepes of Brittany, Grimm’s mother’s birthplace. Options are as simple as La Complete, a traditional ham/Swiss/egg galette, and as rich as La Normande, a galette filled with smoked salmon, brie, shallots and herbs.
A terrific choice is La Campagnarde galette: a savory crepe filled with salty lardons (bacon), tomatoes, diced and toasted potatoes, onions, spinach, herbs and a fried egg. While in theory one might be able to hand-carry a daintily filled buckwheat crepe pocket, in practice it’s a terrible idea. This is a dish you want to savor, from crispy wrapping to herbed, wilted greens to oozy egg. So delicious.
Lighter appetites still seeking French café satisfaction will find a variety of excellent breads freshly baked and delivered daily by Miami’s acclaimed Zak the Baker. They range in price from $3 for a croissant to $18 for a full brioche loaf. You should know Zak delivers fresh, large cookies as well – and the salted dark chocolate cookies are sublime.
- Hours: Open Monday through Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Bar: Wine is served.
- Find it: If construction work has closed Clematis Street at Quadrille, follow detour signs to the 500 block, or enter from the west.