True proponents of French dining know that just because it’s ooh-la-la doesn’t mean it has to be cha-ching. Sure, the most upscale venues are expensive, but for every $60 chateaubriand you might enjoy during a given special occasion, there are a hundred reasons to enjoy an exceptionally good cup of coffee alongside superior pastry – two things the French do very, very well. Submitted here for your perusal, a sampling of what Orlando has to offer by way of Paris, Lyon and other beautiful, well-known places in the land of luscious wine and superior cheese. From casual eateries such as Le Café de Paris in Dr. Phillips to quaint bistros where a lovely lunch or delicious dinner might be enjoyed before or after an easy stroll on the avenue (Paris Bistro or Café de France) to brasseries and fine-dining venues in what might be the most unlikely place in the world: an Orlando, Florida, theme park, this city does French quite nicely. In fact, some of its best venues have been around for decades. Whether you’re in the mood for traditional coq au vin or the rich, gooey goodness of a lunchtime croque madame, Orlando can more than adequately help you make your French connection.
10 Benjamin French Bakery & Cafe
Pop into this Thornton Park outpost for a petit déjeuner before work or a morning stroll around the neighborhood or nearby Lake Eola. Fresh pastries, croissants and baguettes baked on premises accompany coffee or, later in the day, an array of salads and sandwiches from the simple Le Parisien (Swiss cheese and butter) to the lavish Le St. Tropez (smoked salmon with dill-lemon crème). Quiches, of course, make more than an appearance. Try the familiar Lorraine or venture into something new, perhaps the La Montagne, with chicken breast or bacon accompanying confit onion, nutmeg sauce and goat cheese. Tarts, flans, macarons and more round out the menu -- and perhaps your midsection. (407-797-2253)
9 Cafe 906
Café 906 sits on a busy corner in Winter Park but inside it is an oasis of sorts, a small, family-run café featuring breakfast and lunch and an array of baked goodies, including many you may not have had the pleasure of trying up until now. Authentic pastries and quiches, rich eggy breakfasts -- and lunches -- crowd the menu, along with a number of wonderful baguette-encased sandwich offerings, as well. Homemade soups are such crowd pleasers (the mushroom is quite delicious) you might crave them come summer, as well. The hosts here are French natives, as well, and their warm hospitality makes the food taste even better -- or perhaps helps you forget you were supposed to start that diet today. Oh well, there's always tomorrow. ((407) 975-0600)
8 Monsieur Paul
EPCOT's new French venue, Monsieur Paul debuted at the close of 2012 in the France Pavilion space formerly held by Bistro de Paris at the park's World Showcase. Named for famed French chef Paul Bocuse, who opened Les Chefs de France at EPCOT back in 1982 (this restaurant is right downstairs), his influence figures prominently in the menu, as do his honors and achievements in its décor. Upscale -- though less formal than its predecessor -- the menu focuses on French classical cuisine, featuring rich delights such as herb-crusted rack of lamb, and succulent Maine lobster. Be sure to save room for warm Grand Marnier soufflé in orange sauce to finish off your visit to Lyon via Disney. ((407) 939-3463)
7 The Venetian Room
It's all those things people love to read: AAA Four-Diamond, award-winning, all that, but more importantly The Venetian Room affords diners a truly exceptional, sumptuous evening of fine dining. With entrees that top out over $40, you will pay for it, but the service, the detail and the food are truly exceptional. Creamy lobster bisque with chunks of tender meat lie in wait beneath a layer of flaky, buttery puff pastry, flavorful, slow-braised bison short ribs satisfy the heartiest of appetites, but if you're splurging on the luxury of the Venetian Room, you have to save room for dessert. Tahitian vanilla-bean creme brulee is decadent, the Black Magic Dome of bittersweet chocolate mousse even more so, but the Grand Marnier souffle;with creme anglaise? Ooh la la. (407-238-8060)
6 Chez Vincent
Since 1997, Chez Vincent has remained a lauded listing amid Orlando's fine-dining scene. Located in Winter Park's Hannibal Square, the restaurant has likely been discovered by new visitors to the neighborhood in recent years, drawn in by its ongoing development and renaissance. Courting upscale diners with both classic dishes and inventive choices along with its intimate atmosphere, Chez Vincent's specialties include Feuillete d'Escargots (sautéed snails baked in a puff pastry with Port wine sauce) and Carre d'Agneau au Bleu (rack of lamb with a bleu cheese sauce). It's not uncommon to hear raves about this restaurant's soups, sauces and seafood dishes, as well. (407-599-2929)
5 Le Cafe de Paris
Residents of the Dr. Phillips neighborhood love their little slice of France, where married proprietors and French natives Claude and Chantal have been cultivating a following since 2007. Visit for an excellent morning coffee and perhaps pair it with a croissant or another of the buttery house pastries. Lunch brings with it lighter options -- crisp salads showcasing fresh greens and tuna -- but some varieties boast bacon, prosciutto, cheese, sour cream, thereby warranting a pass over (if you're looking an excuse) to sample their wonderful quiches. This is not a bistro laden with classic cuisine and heavy sauces. Le Café de Paris is casual, and so is the food. Rich offerings come in the form of sandwiches like the Croque Monsieur or -- even better -- the Croque Madame. Topped with a glistening fried egg, this is a knife-and-fork sandwich like its masculine counterpart, but each bite of the Madame comes drenched in wonderful, warm yolk. That's Mother Nature's rich French sauce. ((407) 293-2326)
4 Café de France
Winter Park residents have adored this cozy bistro and its lovely, park side location since 1982. Owned and operated by French natives from the get-go, its cuisine is top-notch, serving the freshest ingredients available with daily specials dependent on market availability. From luscious lamb -- served sandwich-style at lunch and on its succulent braised shank for dinner -- to savory sides such as roasted Brussels sprouts and grilled artichoke hearts -- Café de France offers intimacy and a warm, locals-only sort of atmosphere in a metro that's entirely too rife with chain venues. Not surprisingly, the wine selection is excellent, as well. Bon appétit! (407-647-1869)
3 Chefs de France
You are in a delightfully appointed French brasserie. The coq au vin is delicious, the wine with which it has been paired -- sublime. The only thing that betrays your actual location in Orlando, perhaps, is the presence of Chef Remy, charming rodent hero of Disney-Pixar's "Ratatouille," who makes appearances four times a day, six days a week, from atop a rolling chef's cart. It is perhaps an ideal way to introduce children to the gastronomic joys of French cuisine: escargot, rustic assortments of patés and charcuteries, all of which sound more appealing to your kids when you say them in French. (407-939-3463)
2 Le Coq Au Vin
Refreshingly unpretentious, this well-received restaurant is run by a husband-and-wife team. Concerned more with food than reputation, they've nonetheless managed to succeed at both, allowing their menu to evolve and adapt to new ideas in cuisine while remaining true to tradition. Dinners here are served in its warm, French-country dining room or, on suitable evenings, in its quaint courtyard. From beginning (perhaps you might try homespun adapted classics like country-style fried green tomatoes topped with crab meat and served with mustard buerre blanc) to end (homemade tarte aux pommes) with a break in the middle for the classic braised dish that gives the restaurant its name, Le Coq au Vin has endured as one of Orlando's French favorites since it opened in 1976. (407-851-6980)
1 Paris Bistro
From its dark red velvet banquettes inside to its twinkly lights outside, Paris Bistro serves up a bit of the famed city's flavor upon sitting down. Just wait until you try what's on your plate. Wonderful preparations of classics like lapin aux pruneaux (braised rabbit in red wine sauce with prunes) and chateaubriand (filet mignon sliced table-side with a choice of phenomenal sauces) look phenomenal and taste better. This eatery offers reasonable lunch and brunch deals, its menu diverse with offerings from rich entrees like coq au vin and veal Normande to rich sandwiches like the croquet monsieur to American favorites like its Paris Bistro burger -- with an over-medium egg on top. Great for family or business lunches, tops for a truly special date night. (4076714424)
About A.D. Thompson
A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.
A roller coaster enthusiast (SeaWorld’s Manta is her current favorite), A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city.
Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.
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