Another sunny afternoon in downtown Safety Harbor, one of the most pleasant and picturesque spots in Tampa Bay. You couldn't reasonably consider a well-known area like this to be a local secret, but it's so quaint, artsy and filled with laid-back, quiet charm that it really does feel like one.
What better stop than a little French bistro, located just off the Main Street thoroughfare? It's called Parts of Paris, and it's built into a restored 1936 bungalow. On the inside, white tablecloth dining; on the outside, a covered patio surrounded by lush, subtropical foliage.
As I researched, it occurred to me that I didn't really know what a bistro even was, compared with, say, a cafe or brasserie. After all, the only phrase I can speak in French is je suis désolé, je ne parle pas français. Well, a bistro is simply a small, casual French restaurant. The emphasis is generally on home-style French fare, served in a modest setting.
The interior of Parts of Paris is extremely homey, with a vibe similar to the bungalow restaurants you'll find in Seminole Heights. In the afternoon, sunlight illuminates the interior and gives the bottles behind the bar a cool, backlit glow. At night, much of the space is candlelit.
As the dining area is set in an actual living room space, it can get a little tight (and loud) on busy nights. There's plenty of spillover space on the front patio, though, and I wouldn't think twice about choosing it over the interior, especially as the weather cools toward the end of the year.
The decor at Parts of Paris, unsurprisingly, includes a strong French theme. From painted Parisienne cafe scenes to a large Eiffel Tower made of wine corks, there's no mistaking Parts of Paris' lineage. In the background, cool bebop jazz — very nouvelle vague.
The food is artfully prepared, traditional French cuisine. It's on the higher end of the bistro price spectrum, but it's unquestionably fine-dining quality, and the warm, personal service matches the price. There are about 50 wines to pair with your meal, including some ports and dessert wines to finish with.
The colorful descriptions on the wine list make every option seem irresistible. Fresh herbs, tobacco, black fruit? That's the Haras Carmenere from Maipo Valley in Chile. Crisp, minerals, light apple, butter? Pouilly Fuisse, from Bourgogne. And, simply, laissez les bons temps rouler ("let the good times roll"): Dom Pérignon Brut, 2004 vintage.
The beer selection is wonderfully concise, featuring only four beers: France's Kronenbourg and Kronenbourg Blanc, California's Butte Creek Organic IPA, and Montreal's Unibroue La Fin du Monde. That's a lot of range covered in a very short space, while still maintaining thematic clarity.
The spirit selection is a bit more varied, with lots of vodka choices and many excellent whiskeys (and whiskies), as well as several fine French brandies: Calvados, Armagnac and Cognac. If you're in a fancy mood, try on a Hennessy V.S.O.P. Privilège, or a Larressingle Armagnac. When in Paris . . .
But the real story is in the cocktail list. Aside from bitters and the spirits themselves, everything is fresh and handmade. Instead of sour mix, fresh lemons and limes. Instead of premade simple syrup made with refined sugar, housemade simples that use turbinado sugar and agave nectar. The selections are filled with muddled citrus, fresh berries, herbs and spices, and fresh juices.
These cocktails are plenty creative, too. La Tour Eiffel combines Bourbon and savory black walnut bitters with tart blackberries, cooling mint, bright lemon and sweet vanilla syrup. The Larry is another bourbon affair, this time tinged with orange bitters and sweetened with a housemade stout-and-anise beer jam glaze. Oh, and the glass is smoked beforehand.
Quite simply, it's a little taste of Paris in a beautiful part of town. If you like fine wine, interesting spirits, and thoughtful, well-made cocktails, then you'll want to take the short detour off of Main Street to find the little old bungalow that's home to Parts of Paris.
— [email protected]; @WordsWithJG.