2618 Galiano Street, Coral Gables // 305.442.4554

If there were a showdown of casual French cuisine, and restaurants around town were assessed according to their French onion soup ($7), Frenchie’s Diner in Coral Gables would win for its perfect broth and bubbling, blistered layers of cheese. If the contest were to measure spots by their croque-monsieur ($10), Frenchie’s would take the prize yet again — this time for its peerless ham sandwich smothered in béchamel and finished with golden, melted Gruyère. Similar outcomes would result from Frenchie’s crème brûlée, steak frites, and duck confit ($26) — and perhaps also with its chocolate mousse, moules frites, and escargots. It might be easier to crown Frenchie’s the most superb source for French cooking in town. But to rob these pretend judges of their glorious research, well, that just seems awfully cruel.



The croque-monsieur at Frenchie’s Diner is not meant to be neat. The ham sandwich is smothered in a rich, viscous béchamel and crowned with blistered, bubbling Gruyère. Its center is soft. The bread is soaked in the milk gravy, infused with slivered garlic and fresh bursts of lemon juice. It has a thick crust that is golden and crisp. Strands of melted cheese stretch, dangle, and spin about forks like a shadow trails a dancer twisting on a stage. The sandwich is sprinkled with chopped parsley, paired with batons of fried potatoes, and enjoyed best without moderation or restraint. It is delightfully untidy and perfect in its own way.

Frenchie’s is a petite Coral Gables restaurant where the menu is squiggled in different colors on a chalkboard that fills one wall. Selections are also written on smaller boards that function as menus and are shuffled by waitstaff around the room. At this 50-seat spot, some porcelain dishes are white; others are adorned with blue florals, gray patterns, and gold trim. Many spoons have light-pink handles; others are just stainless steel. Black-and-white floor tiles, mismatched artifacts, and rose walls suggest the space is an American diner. Peerless beurre blanc, duck confit, and steak frites give the impression of a French bistro. The restaurant, in fact, is a bit of both.

View the slide show “Closer Look: Frenchie’s in Coral Gables.”

The setting combines classic French cooking with the nonchalance of a family-owned American place. Husband and wife Gabriel and Shannon Castrec are the family. Gabriel hands out kisses and glasses of rosé. He chats and darts from guest to guest. Shannon is rouged by the flames in the kitchen — and also from the many compliments on her cuisine. She has a degree from the French Culinary Institute in New York, yet she opts not to wear a chef’s coat. She dresses like a home cook: a solid T-shirt that’s sometimes green, sometimes blue, and a white apron that’s sometimes stained, sometimes clean. (“Chef’s jackets are uncomfortable,” she says. “My husband gets mad at me because my arms are battle-scarred with burns. But I don’t need to wear a chef’s jacket to be a chef.”) She is American. Gabriel is French. Together, they run a spot that, since opening in 2012, has become a neighborhood favorite.

Frenchie’s Diner is the kind of place every wide-eyed cook aspires to own. The short menu comprises daily specials such as fish and soup that change based on the chef’s whims. One evening, there was perfectly cooked pan-seared Florida pompano with an accompanying cold salad of firm asparagus and yellow cherry tomatoes, coupled with vibrant segments of orange and lime. The fish sat atop a lemon-colored pool of refreshing citrus beurre blanc. There was also a delectable potato-leek soup — its delicate flavors enriched with decadent butter and cream. Frenchie’s goes beyond good sandwiches; the restaurant bounces seamlessly between casual and refined cuisine.

Frenchie’s is open weekdays for lunch, serves dinner Thursdays and Fridays, and operates just a few hours a day. During lunch, the restaurant hosts a parade of office workers. It serves tuna niçoise salad and hamburgers with fries. Dinnertime is like an intimate party at a friend’s home. One night, Shannon and Gabriel sat and sipped some wine. They lit a guest’s birthday candle. They toasted with champagne. Their restaurant feels relaxed and familiar.




There are lots of delicious ways to prepare lobster, but the Lobster Croque Monsieur prepared by the ScubaNation North team of Billy C, the co-host of ScubaNation on Fox Sun Sports, his wife, Monique, and their brother-in-law Gabriel Castrec was the winner Thursday in the BugFest-By-The-Sea Master Lobster Chef Competition.

The judging was tough, as all five teams came up with wonderful entrees, which were judged on taste, presentation and creativity.
The By The Sea Realty team had Bugfest Bug Bites, which were medallions of grilled bacon-wrapped lobster.
The Gold Coast Scuba team used a lobster antenna as a skewer for onions, peppers and lobster chunks, which was served with lobster orzo.
And the ScubaNation South team had a simple, but awesome, boiled lobster tail split down the middle and served with melted butter and grits that were made with half water and half of the water in which the tails were cooked.
Croque Monsieur is a classic French grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Castrec, whose wife is the chef at their Coral Gables restaurant Frenchie’s Diner, has a killer recipe for it. “We kind of brainstormed,” Billy C said, “then I remembered that everyone loves her Croque Monsieur.”

 So they borrowed Mlle. Castrec’s recipe and replaced the ham with lobster. Castrec toasted slices of sourdough bread that were cut into rounds and put béchamel sauce with swiss cheese on the toast. That was followed by the lobster, which Billy C grilled in the shell with salt, pepper, lemon and olive oil, and cut into thin slices.
More béchamel sauce and swiss cheese was put on top of that and, because there was no oven, Castrec wrapped the whole thing in foil and put it on the grill to melt everything.
Truffle sauce was added on top and a propane torch was used to sear it. A simple side of different colored heirloom cherry tomatoes and green beans accompanied the Lobster Croque Monsieur.



The smell of sizzling butter and seared cheese hangs in the air like a cartoon finger, tempting me to order something fried and delicious. Croque monsieur or crab cake — should I go bistro or diner at this Coral Gables charmer?

I am distracted by the perky young chef as she bounces through the dining room. “You know how I get it so tender?” Shannon Castrec asks a guest. “It cooks in its own fat for 24 hours.” She’s talking, of course, about her velvety duck confit. Though it’s not on the lunch menu, she’s serving it this noon to one of her loyal customers.

Photo by: Walter Michot, Miami Herald

Photo by: Walter Michot, Miami Herald

At Frenchie’s American Diner, it seems, everyone is a regular. The perpetually smiling husband-wife team of Gabriel and Shannon Castrec run an honest to goodness mom and pop. (Their three children can be spotted doing homework at one of the dozen four-tops in the back.)

The décor, set off by roughly stuccoed walls, is best described as quirky. Wooden tables are swathed in white butcher paper, chairs are covered in red vinyl, and colorful knick-knacks (a flowery watering can, a shopping bag, a baseball cap) swing from the ceiling fans. Music veering from Stevie Wonder to Spanish guitar and The Eagles contributes to the eclectic vibe.

The Miami-born, French Culinary Institute-trained chef turns out first-rate food, both French and American. Her husband, a native of France’s Picardie region, skillfully manages the front of the house with a handshake, hug or kiss for all who enter.

Open so far for weekday lunch and Friday night dinner plus a monthly prix-fixe dinner deal, Frenchie’s is adding Thursday nights to the schedule this month. Every meal begins with irresistibly warm and crusty baguettes and ever-so-lightly salted butter. A rotating roster of soups and daily fish specials has been spot-on each time I’ve visited.

I am a huge fan of the creamy butternut squash served with a sprinkle of toasted pumpkin seeds. But perhaps the best thing I’ve sampled is the onion soup with a beef stock as deep and rich as mahogany and onions so sweet and soft they melt on the tongue.

The sea bass seared to the color of gingerbread and served over a rustic white bean cassoulet is superb, as is the coq au vin. Salads are notably French in their gentle, slightly salty dressing and clean composition. Tuna niçoise is a favorite, though the Caesar with its perfectly garlicky, house-made croutons would be even better with anchovies.

Steak béarnaise is another standout, as are pencil-thin fries with their salty, hot snap and soft, puffy middle. Moules frite with eraser-sized Mediterranean black mussels in a heady white wine sauce can be super, though one night, with Shannon absent from the kitchen, they were sandy.

The mostly French wine list is simple, serviceable and well-handled, with whites nicely chilled and reds just right. House-made desserts include dreamy cakes, custardy ice creams and a fine rendition of chocolate mousse that can’t be beat, especially for the price.

I cannot resist the charm of this French-American newcomer, and only hope I can still get a seat once everyone discovers what a gem it is.