I think everyone has an aesthetic that they’re inexplicably drawn to – a type of place you’ll always wander into or a type of thing you’ll always pick up. Mine is cozy cafes. The type of cafe that’s tucked away somewhere, unpretentiously serving delicious food in an atmosphere that feels authentic and welcoming. Where you could spend hours sitting comfortably with a cup of tea or coffee and a good book. So it took only a few minutes inside of Le Petit Paris to feel entirely at home.
Le Petit Paris can be found just off of the always-busy San Jose Boulevard in Jacksonville, in a storefront surrounded by a phone store and an insurance agent. I’ve learned in my time at the magazine to never judge a restaurant by its cover, because strip malls can hide some serious culinary gems. Le Petit Paris is no exception. The restaurant has only been open since March of 2019, but owner and chef Alexander Chezaud says that the foundation was laid six years ago. Alexander’s sister had just moved to St. Pete and was inspired to open a French cafe, so she called her chef brother and asked if he would move from Paris for just six months to help her get started. Well six months turned into four years. During this time, Alexander met his wife, Yevah, and the couple decided to move to Yevah’s hometown of Jacksonville to be closer to her family and have a chance to start a cafe of their own.
An omen of good food to come, Alexander’s culinary resume could rival any Jacksonville chef’s. He worked at a number of high-end restaurants in Paris – including Le Meurice with Chef Alain Ducasse (awarded three Michelin stars) and Le Fouquet’s under Michelin-starred Chef Jean Yves Lerangueur. “I worked at Le Fouquet’s for a little bit more than four years,” says Alexander. “That is where I learned most of everything I know now when it comes to the importance of presentation, using quality products, and the importance of quality of service.”
With white marble tabletops, Parisian bistro chairs, and a stripe of red tile along the wall, this is by no means your kitschy, French-themed cafe. Aided, he says, by restaurant manager Santiago Dvivero, Alexander brought a whirlwind of authenticity with him from Paris. If you carefully avert your eyes from the expanse of pavement and palm trees just outside the window, you’ll feel entirely transported.
You’ll also feel transported when it comes to your palate. Alexander and his second chef Colton Simmons set us up first with the Germain, a baguette sandwich topped with pesto, prosciutto, arugula, and shaved parmesan. This dish is perfectly indicative of the menu’s mission – simple and unostentatious but beautifully fresh and delightfully flavorful. All adjectives that can also describe the Palette Salad (named such, I can only assume, because it’s practically a work of art). A bed of mixed greens is garnished with goat cheese and sundried tomatoes then finished with balsamic glaze and accompanied by a hot goat cheese and fig toast.
The Le Normandy Cheese Board was a striking array of brie, prosciutto, strawberry, apple, grapes, and almonds. And – proving that this cafe can hold its own for any meal of the day – a croissant, brie, scrambled eggs, and bacon made up the Breakfast Sandwich (though any number of cheeses and proteins can be substituted). And if your sweet tooth is what calls to you ante meridiem, stands stacked high with freshly-baked pastries of all kinds sit just adjacent to the register. Throughout this delicious display, we quenched our thirst with their much-beloved peach/mango tea, an expertly-crafted latte, and a glass of Cote de Provence Rosé. Though we resisted the call of the mimosa bar, many nearby tables had given in to its summons.
When it comes to the food, Alexander chose dishes that reminded him of meals he had while still living in Paris. “But they all have a different twist than the ones I would have there,” he says. “It was really fun to combine both American and French culinary culture together to create unique recipes!” And his combinations have clearly clicked with the locals. As we set up dishes to photograph, we had to weave in and out of a slew of customers (despite this being mid-afternoon), and there was rarely a moment in which the door wasn’t opening rapidly.
The food at Le Petit Paris isn’t complicated. It isn’t full of unpronounceable and obscure ingredients; it doesn’t need these things to stand out. Instead, it relies on Chef Alexander’s expertise and care – an intention and authenticity that makes the simple sublime.