Co-owned by Jean-Robert de Cavel and Jean-Phillipe Jean-Philippe Solnom, The French Crust opened in September 2013. (Photo by G. Yek)
CINCINNATI - Pastries? Chocolate? This cafe, co-owned by two French friends, brings the taste and atmosphere of France to Cincinnati.
Our Thursday column explores the international side of Greater Cincinnati dining. Follow WCPO contributor, Grace Yek, as she talks to the chefs and owners of these dining spots about their food, culture and journey to the Tri-State.
The French Crust is a collaboration between two Frenchmen who wanted to bring a true French cafe to Cincinnati.
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CINCINNATI - Our Thursday column explores the international side of Greater Cincinnati dining. Follow WCPO contributor, Grace Yek, as she talks to the chefs and owners of these dining spots about their food, culture and journey to the Tri-State.
Where: 915 Vine Street, Cincinnati Website: JRTable.com Facebook: Facebook.com/FrenchCrustCafe Food: French cafe food Prices: Breakfast $2.50 - $9.50; Lunch $3.75-$14.50
If you wandered into French Crust Cafe and thought you had just stepped into a little eatery in France, you wouldn't be alone. The cafe is, after all, the brainchild of two well-known Frenchmen in town--but more about them later.
Prepare to swoon over classic French pastries and elegant cafe food. The viennoiserie include croissants, éclairs, brioche, and pain aux raisin (flaky raisin bread). The croissants come plain, or filled with almond cream or chocolate. French Crust Cafe generally offers a few different pastry varieties.
Classic breakfast staples like eggs benedict grace the menu, too. Here they transcend the rudimentary English muffin, and instead are served on the very French, slightly sweet brioche.
The flat croissant, an item you won’t find elsewhere in town, is beloved here. Buttery and flaky, purposely made flat, this version is topped with fresh local ingredients, such as chicken, apple, mushroom and Kentucky sheep's milk cheese.
Quiche Lorraine is another French Crust favorite as is le creuset (the little pot) of heartier food like scallop and shrimp vol au vent (puff pastry). The mac and cheese boasts aromatics like leeks and celery, and luxurious ingredients like mushroom, béchamel, gruyere and Swiss cheeses.
The cafe also offers a treasure trove of dessert pastries, lovely chocolates and candies.
Meet the chef and co-owner
Jean-Philippe Solnom loves his job. He smiles constantly as he talks about the food he makes at the charming French-style cafe that he co-owns with Jean-Robert de Cavel.
"I start baking at four o'clock in the morning, starting with croissants, then the other pastries," he said. "I love making chocolate, I love making pastries. This is not fine dining but classic food in France."
Originally from Lyon, Solnom knew at an early age he wanted to be a pastry chef. He began his formal training at 14, at a pastry school in the town of Moulins. As a young man, his quest to learn and perfect his craft would span 15 years. In those years, he worked as a pastry chef in various establishments in France, and even made his way to Switzerland to train to become a chocolatier.
Solnom's story took a sharp turn when his best friend in France, who had family in Cincinnati, made an offhand remark.
"He asked me, 'How about coming to Cincinnati?'" Solnom remembers wondering where Cincinnati was.
With the spirit of "Why not?" Solnom came to Cincinnati in 2001. He worked as a pastry chef at Le Cezane, in Wyoming. It wasn't long before he would meet Jean-Robert de Cavel.
The two hit it off and began collaborating immediately. It was inevitable that they would eventually join forces to open French Crust Cafe in September 2013.
Solnom wants to give Cincinnati a taste of classic French pastries and fine chocolate.
"Of course we learned about good French food from Jean-Robert a long time ago, but I don’t think we can find classic French pastries in Cincinnati," he said.
Of classics like croissant, éclair, fruit tart and napoleon, Solnom said: “I’m making the same pastries as the ones I first made in school in France, and people love it."
Chocolate, however, is a different story.
“With chocolate, you learn almost every day. It's never the same; for example, if the room temperature changes, it behaves differently," he explained.
Fresh is the main ingredient at the French Crust Cafe, which mirrors the French approach to food.
“Many people have a garden in the back of their house," Solnom said. "They plant their own carrots, potatoes and green beans."
Solnom is happy to bring a little bit of France to Vine Street.
“When customers say, ‘Wow, it’s like the small coffee shop we went to in Paris,' it makes me happy,” he said. "We have cities like this in France. It's not big like L.A. or Chicago, but it’s big enough. I love Cincinnati.”
By the way
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, Solnom is gearing up to make plenty of chocolate. He uses products from Valrhona, a leading French supplier, to craft his chocolate and candies.
"They are the most expensive chocolate in France, but they use good cocoa and cocoa butter. Their products are usually between 64 to 76 percent cocoa, so
our customers can really taste the cocoa," Solnom said. "The flavor possibilities of chocolate are also endless: savory, sweet, spicy. The best flavor for me is passion fruit and dark chocolate.”
Grace Yek is a faculty member at the Midwest Culinary Institute, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.