Café Soleil, on St. Pete Beach, has all the makings of a great hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Nestled beneath the shady overhang of an oceanside shopping center, it could be easy to miss the quaint, vintage-style Parisian spot. Word of mouth, though, makes sure that you can’t.
About three weeks back, a Gulf Boulevard local told me about one of his favorite lunches on the beach. With great love and detail, he described a decadent European delicacy of rich butter, gooey cheese and flaky pastry dough.
The dish? The “Toasted Croissant.”
And the location? Café Soleil, of course.
A vintage, 5-star hole-in-the-wall
Salivating, I turned to the internet to find some more information on my friend’s proclaimed “best lunch at the beach.” Like most mom-and-pop shops, though, the humble restaurant had no social media presence. In fact, besides a minimalistic website and a 5.0 star Yelp rating, the spot barely had any digital trace at all. Nevertheless, however, I knew I needed a “Toasted Croissant”—even if I wasn’t exactly sure what it was.
Today, I finally made it down to the beach to try one.
Artisan paninis and fresh-baked baguettes
When I first walked through Café Soleil’s heavy glass doors, I was overwhelmed by the wafting scent of fresh-baked baguettes and the high-energy rush of a hungry lunch crowd. Behind the counter, owner, Lauren Chezaud-Diot, and manager, Mary Macrides, stood calm amongst the calamity. As the former masterfully swirled foam into multiple cappuccinos, the latter balanced glasses of Orangina in each hand and personally greeted every guest. Despite the crowd, it only took a few minutes for me to reach the register.
As Mary prepared to take my order, I scanned the menu for the toasted croissant I was chasing. What I found, however, is that a toasted croissant is not one specific meal, but rather an entire genre of meal. According to the team, they’re pretty much artisan paninis on house-made croissants. The chalkboard behind her listed thirteen different types.
I ended up selecting two, one sweet and one savory. The savory panini featured fig spread, blue cheese, walnuts, honey and arugula. The sweet I chose was the “peanut butter and jelly,” which is self-explanatory.
Gooey sandwiches for every taste
The interplay between salty and sweet in the first croissant was delicious. As the cheese mixed with the fig, both were enhanced by the butter that oozed out from the pastry dough surrounding them. Everything inside the bread, therefore, kind of molded into one gooey, sticky filling, almost reminiscent of some sort of turnover or hand pie. The subtle bitterness of the arugula, though, definitely managed to keep this sandwich in the savory category.
The peanut butter and jelly, on the other hand, was certainly much more of a treat. Representing the sweet category well, this toasted croissant was loaded with hot, melting nut butter and grape jam. If you’ve ever wanted to eat dessert for lunch—which I highly recommend doing—this is hands down the sandwich for you.
Now, as great as those two toasties were, I remind you that Café Soleil offers eleven more. If you’re a meat lover, they’ve got roast beef with Muenster cheese and spicy mustard. Got a taste for the international? Try the prosciutto with fresh mozzarella, sundried tomato and scratch-made pesto. No matter what you choose, I guarantee it’ll be excellent.
Oh, and while you’re there, don’t forget to grab a few of Lauren’s secret recipe pastries to go. I chose the chocolate hazelnut plait, which made a great midnight pick-me-up.
More than your average bakery
Now, before you hurry off to Café Soleil to grab your own “Toasted Croissant,” I will warn you: there is more on the menu. From smoked salmon baguettes to caramelized onion quiche, the chalkboard hanging behind the counter is absolutely loaded with divine delectables. I’d suggest, therefore, bringing a bunch of friends to get the ultimate tasting experience.
Actually, on second thought, maybe you should just clear your lunch schedule for the next month and try everything yourself.
With food as good as Lauren’s, you’re definitely not going to want to share.
Café Soleil is located at 4695 Gulf Blvd in St. Pete Beach. For up-to-date store hours and menu offerings, prospective guests can call the restaurant at (727) 800-2970.