Make us your home page

Restaurant review: Cafe Soleil quietly serving up quality French fare on the beach


There's Tinder. There's But sometimes, love is found via Google.

Lauren Chezaud-Diot, born and raised in Paris, was tired of the French rat race, tired of working for American Express in advertising. The American economy was still shaky, the currency exchange favored France, so many French folks were considering investing in American beachfront real estate. Chezaud-Diot wasn't keen on Florida's other coast, so she Googled:

America's most beautiful beach.

That year the answer was St. Pete Beach. She bought a plane ticket and came to check it out, fell in love and bought a house. With a 2-year-old son and a husband with a more "serious" job in the health care industry, Chezaud-Diot cast about for what to do. Her friends told her to do what she enjoys doing. (Friends always say that, right?) She decided to open a small cafe, and so the first Café Soleil debuted in Dolphin Village in St. Pete Beach in 2013. In 2015, an outpost in Tierra Verde's Marina Plaza opened, and a third Pinellas County deal is already inked. (The ink is still wet, so she declines to say where.)

The cafes have taken off. During high season, they may serve 800 people a day at the St. Pete Beach location. Both spots have a pretty, breezy aesthetic with a long ordering counter strewn with platters of croissants, fruit tarts and baguettes, nicely lettered chalkboards giving the rundown of salads, sandwiches and quiches.

This is familiar food; you have seen this menu before. But what makes it notable is the quality of the finished product. Whether chocolate hazelnut croissant ($2.95) or cherry cheese plait ($3.65), you'll wonder when you last had one so good as you pull apart the tectonic plates of buttery, flaky pastry. (Chezaud-Diot says they bake every hour or two because the humidity gets to the breads and pastries quickly.)

In a couple of visits I worked through most of the menu at both locations. The Amour salad ($7.75) was the most vivacious of three, with a fan of cukes on one side, a fan of crisp apple on the other, the center mounded with mesclun mix, Roquefort crumbles, candied walnuts and a generous flurry of bacon. My only complaint is that the lovely vinaigrette was served on the side and it's too small a bowl to toss effectively.

Sandwiches are offered on toasted croissants or elegant, crusty house-made baguettes — can't go wrong either way. On the latter side, I was most taken by the Simone ($7.95) with swaths of velvety smoked salmon, a big swipe of cucumber cream cheese, dill, lemon and planks of grilled squash. With the croissant offerings, I made a satisfying lunch of one heaped with roast beef, Muenster and zingy mustard ($5.95).

The Café Soleil team, which includes a new kitchen manager who went to Le Cordon Bleu and Chezaud-Diot's brother, Alex Chezaud, who came to help for two weeks and never left, is exacting about ingredients. They're using Kahwa coffee, imported Italian prosciutto and mozzarella and a whole bunch of French cheeses. They roast their own chickens, and all vegetables are organic. They're not loud about any of this; you just taste it in the food.

One morning at the St. Pete Beach location, it seemed like half the dining room was camped out (free Wi-Fi!), reading, sipping lattes, chatting and happily ambling from a midmorning almond croissant ($3.25) to a satisfying lunch of Oh La La quiche with bacon, caramelized onion and cheese ($6.95 and perhaps the most delicious classic on the short menu). I'm sure in high season the place is more frenetic, with a long line snaking down the order counter, but in September, before the crowds, Café Soleil seemed like a little gem that Google brought us.

Contact Laura Reiley at or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.


Café Soleil

4695 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach, (727) 800-2970;

114 Pinellas Bayway S, Tierra Verde, (727) 317-3639

Cuisine: French cafe

Hours: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, until 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in St. Pete Beach; in Tierra Verde 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily

Details: AmEx, V, MC, Disc.; no reservations; no alcohol

Prices: Salads $7.95; sandwiches $5.95-$7.95; pastries $2.25-$3.65

Rating, out of four stars:

Food: ★★★ Service: ★★

Atmosphere: ★★★

Overall: ★★½

Restaurant review: Cafe Soleil quietly serving up quality French fare on the beach 09/26/16 [Last modified: Monday, September 26, 2016 12:20pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bar review: Les Partners Lounge goes old-school in Clearwater

    Bars & Spirits

    There are some local places that I'm shocked aren't more well known, and I think that's the result of a general aversion to stepping out of one's comfort zone. I make regular concerted efforts to step outside of mine, which often leads me to strange and rewarding drinking establishments.

    Les Partners Lounge is an old-school, smoker-friendly cocktail lounge and live music venue tucked away in a nondescript shopping plaza in Island Estates.
  2. Local craft beer of the week: Plongeur a L'eponge, Saint Somewhere Brewing Co.

    Bars & Spirits

    Tarpon Springs' Saint Somewhere Brewing Co. has a somewhat idiosyncratic approach to wild ale brewing, utilizing an open brewing approach involving uncovered fermenters in order to brew beer with local ambient microbes, reminiscent in some ways to the fermentation techniques used by rustic farmhouse breweries in Belgium …

     Plongeur a?€š€™L?ˆš??ponge, Saint Somewhere Brewing Company, 6/23/17  Electric Chair Sour Shandy, Angry Chair Brewing, 6/30/17   Pulp Friction Grapefruit IPA, Motorworks Brewing 7/7/17
  3. ‘80s acts dominate lineup of 2017 Epcot Food and Wine Festival


    Oh, yes. Christmas is coming early this year to ‘80s fans in Florida. Disney’s Epcot Center has announced the lineup to its “Eat to the Beat” concert series that coincides with their annual International Food & Wine Festival.

  4. Equality Florida leader honored at Tampa U2 concert


    TAMPA — Equality Florida director Nadine Smith couldn't attend last week's U2 concert in Tampa, but she can tell you which of her friends had great seats for the June 14 show at Raymond James Stadium.

    Nadine Smith, Equality Florida founder and CEO, received a unique distinction last week when U2 included her in a montage of photos saluting activism and women leaders.
  5. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 23


    Leslie Odom Jr.: A solo concert by the Broadway star who won a Tony for his performance as Aaron Burr in Hamilton. 7 p.m., Ferguson Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $35.50-$55.50. (813) 229-7827.

    Leslie Odom Jr. accepts the award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical in "Hamilton"  during the 70th Annual Tony Awards  on June 12, 2016.  (Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)