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Alexandre Brau with his wife, Mathilde.EXPAND
Alexandre Brau with his wife, Mathilde.
Photo by Alona Abbady Martinez

Transport Yourself to Paris at Bakery of France

In his jeans, blue polo shirt, and sneakers, 26-year-old Alexandre Brau could pass for a typical American millennial. Then he opens his mouth and speaks."I always wanted to go and work and live in the U.S.," he states in an unmistakeable French accent. "First time I was in the U.S., I was 16 years old and I was in Tulsa, Oklahoma."

His wife, Mathilde, watches and listens attentively from behind the counter.

"My English teacher at the time had a friend that was a French teacher in Tulsa, so the whole class from France came to the U.S., and the whole class from the U.S. came to France."

It was a one month exchange program that defined Brau's future. "Since that, I said, 'I want to go back.'"

After earning a master's degree in business administration in France, Brau landed an internship working with a realtor in Boca Raton. He came with Mathilde.

"We just loved it so much, we came back to France and told my parents, 'You should go see,' and they came, they saw, and we all came back and thought, What could we do all together here? And so they had this opportunity to buy this business, and here we are!"

The business opportunity Brau refers to is the sale of what would end up being his family's first bakery, Bakery of France. Brau's father, Herve, an entrepreneur who had found success in numerous ventures back home, was looking for a change. His mother, Marie José, a former manager for Chanel in Paris's exclusive 16th arrondissement, was game.

The restaurant industry was something the Brau family had never dabbled in, but they found a creative solution to that.

"We came with our whole team," Brau states matter-of-factly.

Yes, by "whole team" Brau means they brought over an entire staff from France.

"We selected them in France and brought them here. We wanted to share, to sell, only what we love to eat and what we used to eat every day in France:  the same bread, the same croissant, the same pastries. Something really typical — true French!"

Their first location, near the beach on Spanish River Boulevard, was an instant hit. When it came time to open a second location, Brau thought carefully about potential clientele.

"We wanted to have a different point of sale in Boca. When you think of Boca, you think of the really nice shopping centers: Mizner, Glades. We wanted to be right in the middle of where people live, to be a local, neighborhood, community-oriented breakfast or lunch option."

This locale, a former ice cream shop in a run-down strip mall undergoing major remodeling, met those requirements.

"We liked this location a lot because of all the windows. It's really bright," Brau explains.

Brau locks eyes with Mathilde across the cafe and both smile. He is boyishly cute, and she is tall, thin, and pretty. Their love for one another is palpable.

The question of when they got married inevitably comes up, and Brau instinctively responds, "We got married in..." and stumbles for a second. Both he and Mathilde dissolve in laughter.

"It was three years ago!" Mathilde shouts from the safety of the register. She is shy and opts to pass on being interviewed, though she does not miss a beat.

"Yes! 2013! The exact year we moved," Brau confirms. "We've been together for more than six years," he tells New Times, explaining that they were introduced by a mutual friend. She was nineteen. He was twenty. "We just clicked," Brau whispers, blushing through his thin beard as he steals another glance at his wife.

The second location opened in December 2014 and was a replication of the first, right down to the marble countertops, glass display, and traditional wood cabinets you would find in bakeries in Paris.

"We wanted to keep this typical look, hear the French music, nice display where everything is clear to see and easy to choose. If you have an Opera or a Royal pastry here, it will taste the same as the other location. This is really something we wanted to make sure. Everything is made from scratch from premium ingredients: pastries, quiches, crêpes, baguettes, of course. Soups too."

A couple walks in, unaware that the bakery is closed already, and Mathilde cheerful attends to them anyway, asking if there is any pastry they'd like to take to go.

The popular Chèvre Miel sandwich: goat cheese, honey, turkey, and fresh pears.
The popular Chèvre Miel sandwich: goat cheese, honey, turkey, and fresh pears.
Photo by Alona Abbady Martinez

The menu is extensive. Breakfast, which runs until 11 a.m., can be as simple as a butter croissant (made with imported French butter) and jam (straight from Paris). Want a little protein to start your day? Go for the croissant with egg, French ham, and Emmental cheese or the Végétarienne, a French-style omelet with mushrooms, tomato, and onions. Other sweet pastries include raisin Danish, chocolate croissant, and almond croissant. Lunch offers the traditional French onion soup as well as a soup of the day, which is always vegetarian. French-inspired salads, sandwiches, and quiches are up for grabs as well, including seasonal specials such as the Chèvre Miel: goat cheese, honey, turkey, and fresh pears nestled between a flaky croissant.

"It's a new addition on the menu and is really popular," says Brau.

There are also sampler platters for those who are a bit indecisive. The Charcuterie Temptation includes three rolls filled with imported ham, pate, and rosette (dry-cured pork) alongside a small salad. There's also a Cheese Temptation for those who are happy making a meal out of fromage.

Whatever you pick, leave room for something sweet.

Nothing says French comfort food more than crêpes. Enjoy these classic thin pancakes with just butter and sugar or add fresh fruit, Grand Marnier, or Nutella and bananas.

Crêpe with fresh berries.
Crêpe with fresh berries.
Photo by Alona Abbady Martinez

Every day, Bakery of France will have between ten and 13 different pastries on display, something Brau is in charge of making now that their pastry chef has returned to France. They also make cakes to order.  Under the pastry chef's tutelage, Brau mastered the pear tart, amandine (almond cake), lemon meringue tart, Opera cake (almond sponge cake soaked in coffee syrup and layered with ganache and coffee), and macaroons, just to name a few.

"He trained me well," Brau asserts.

Breads are baked throughout the day.

"It remains fresh, whether you come at 8 or you come at 3:30," Brau adds, bringing out a crusty baguette to prove his point. They also have a multigrain baguette with seeds mixed into the dough, ficelle (a skinny baguette), epi loaf (perfect for those who love crunchy crusts), and pain veinnois (similar to a brioche).

"What is your favorite thing to eat?" New Times asks Brau.

"You'll need a few more lines," he jokes, pointing at the interview notes. "Pretty much everything!"

That is believable. He looks like an 18-year-old teenage boy who never gets full.

The quiche Florentine, uses Brau's mother's original recipe.EXPAND
The quiche Florentine, uses Brau's mother's original recipe.
Courtesy of Bakery of France

"This is tough!" he laments, still trying to find his answer. Instinctively, he looks at Mathilde for help, then blurts out, "Quiches! This is something I've eaten since I was little. My mother used to make me quiches, so I say [to her], 'We have to have the quiche [when we open the bakery] and we have to have the exact same recipe that you used to make me!'" His face is glowing, triumphant. He is pleased with himself for such a perfect answer.

The same question gets asked to Mathilde across the cafe.

"Hmmmm," she picks up the menu and leisurely glances through it. "The thing is, I had one favorite, but now I have another one!" she giggles.

"So you're debating, you or you," Brau chimes in playfully.

"I would say the panini with the mozzarella, tomato, prosciutto, and pesto."

There's already talk about a third location, but nothing is concrete yet.

"We really want the neighborhood to know us," Brau explains, "to know what we do, to have a good clientele before having a manager."

Brau has a younger brother, Charles, currently studying business administration at FAU, who might eventually join the family business.

"For now, he gives us ideas. He wants to finish his classes, and then he'll decide."

His parents remain at the original location, rarely stopping by.

"They trust us. We have a good relationship. We have to — it's a family business. We have the personal life and also the business life that are linked, so we have to have a really good relationship. Plus, we want to be grown-ups and deal with any type of situation, and this is something, so far, it's been... " Brau pauses before kicking into his version of an Oklahoma drawl, "... nice and smooth!"

Bakery of France. Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 6030 SW 18th St., Boca Raton, 561-430-5616; Tuesday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 625 NE Spanish River Blvd., Boca Raton, 561-361-4490.

Alona Abbady Martinez lives in Plantation. She writes about food and family on her blog, Culinary Compulsion, and is currently working on her book, My Culinary Compulsion, a global food memoir with recipes. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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