Denizens of Lake Worth are divided into three camps: people who think La Bonne Bouche (516 Lucerne Ave., 561-533-0840) is the best French café downtown, those who favor L'Avenue (4 S. "O" St., 561-540-4166), and those who never set foot in either because the proprietors of both are so grumpy. You're not a true Lake Worthian until you've been snapped at or summarily dismissed by at least one barely civil Frenchman.
Think of it as a test, a bizarre intro to Gallic manners, because braving the sneers of the owners at these cafés is worth the humiliation. At some point (invisible to you, but clear to them) you'll find you've been inducted into the insiders' club. By your fifth visit they'll be greeting you with the enthusiasm of family.
La Bonne Bouche
La Bonne Bouche 516 Lucerne Ave., 561-533-0840, L'Avenue (4 S. "O" St., 561-540-4166)
La Bonne Bouche began as a tiny bakery in a run-down building, selling fresh bread, fruit tarts, chocolate and almond-paste croissants, petits fours, and reasonably priced paté sandwiches on crunchy baguettes, tomato and mozzarella, smoked salmon and chicken salad. In no time, owners Eric and Sara Regnier had put in a sun-dappled brick patio with a gurgling fountain and arcs of bougainvillea. This summer they added a real dining room, cozy and wood paneled, where they expect to be serving bistro-style dinners beginning in the next couple of weeks. Eric has told us that even from the start, chauffeurs were pulling up in Rolls Royces at 7 a.m. on weekend mornings to buy fresh pastries for Palm Beach brunches. La Bonne Bouche was featured on The Food Network's Best Of (French Favorites) this summer, which has jollied the owners up considerably: Suddenly everyone is called "sweetheart."
A few blocks away, L'Avenue, open for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Saturday, is a cheerful-looking café selling Alsatian pottery and cookware, with a shady outdoor patio and a boules court. Chef Cyrille and his minions serve buttery omelets with fines herbes, cheese, or vegetables for breakfast. Salads at L'Avenue are works of art: mounds of marinated vegetables (carrot, beet, red cabbage, beans), mixed greens, black olives, and spicy watercress sprouts. Their BLT sandwich is an unparalleled concoction of thick bacon, salted tomatoes, and aioli on nutty slices of country bread. Lunch specials include duck confit over roasted root vegetables, chicken pot pie, and a fragrant, delicate, sublimely runny cheese soufflé. The place is fairly pricy ($9 for a big sandwich, $15 for the specials), but for my money, that soufflé is one of the best lunches in South Florida.