NAPLES — No matter how you take your coffee or tea in the morning, you’d be hard pressed to find better pastries than what the French churn out on a daily basis. To taste an authentic French pastry is to hold a piece of heaven in your mouth and stare in wonderment at the paper bag, praying there is one more pastry to enjoy later.
It’s rare to find the real deal in Naples, but for the past year and some change, charming French couple Isabelle and Pierre Frittoli have come to be two of this town’s most talented pastry purveyors.
“We are here at 4 o’clock in the morning most days to make everything from scratch,” says Pierre Frittoli. “It’s not like making something from a can, you know, because everything we make is homemade.”
The made-from-scratch pastries Frittoli speaks of include such goodies as plain and chocolate croissants, brioche, raisin swirls and all manner of breads and sweets. Tarts, macaroons, turnovers and a bevy of other pastries grace the cabinets of a shop that looks as if it were transported directly from a Parisian arrondissement.
Frittoli takes great pride in speaking of his wife Isabelle, who could easily be counted as one of Florida’s best pastry experts, possibly even beyond state lines.
“Yes, my wife is a pastry chef as well so the standards are very high,” says Frittoli of his bride.
The couple hails from Cannes, a picturesque place best known for the Cannes Film Festival, a major event for the film industry. In coming to Naples, the Frittolis sought something they knew they loved — the water and the sunshine.
“We wanted the sun and sea and coming from Cannes, Naples was the place to be,” Frittoli says.
Grain de Café is decorated with lovely touches that conjure images of early mornings and a café au lait with a newspaper and fresh brioche at the ready. Ornate chalkboards behind the register display a few choice pastries while across the aisle, authentic French menus flank photos and media coverage of the couple and their café.
Miniature chandeliers dot the ceiling distributing soft light onto what else — pink walls. In the film by the same name from a café, Julia Ormond’s “Sabrina” waxes poetic about the song “La Vie en Rose” and says, “only in Paris where the light is pink does that line start to make sense.” It’s apropos that the Frittolis would design their café with that special shade of pink that Francophiles always associate with Paris.
Breakfast, from the traditional afore-mentioned pastries to scrambled eggs and omelets on French baguettes, English muffin and croissants, is all homemade as well. Nothing is pre-made or pre-cooked. Stay at Grain de Café long enough and you’ll witness people whizzing by with giant baking sheets filled with croissants, rushing to and from the oven in the back of the café.
A little further down from the register, cooks busily prepare all manner of quiche and French sandwiches — one of the best is the traditional Croque-monsieur made with Béchamel sauce, ham and cheese.
“Parisien, Niçoise, Normand, Fermier — all our regions are in our sandwiches and our salads,” says Frittoli, who with his wife have catered for the famous Cannes films festival.
Dessert at Grain de Café includes macaroons, tuiles aux amandes — otherwise known as almond biscuits — Madeleines, muffins, brownies and tarts in flavors including lemon, strawberry, raspberry, apricot and plum. The apple tarts are a specialty of the house.
As if the atmosphere at Grain de Café isn’t romantic enough, the Frittolis pipe French music directly into the café from a French radio station. They do take special orders such as special birthday cakes and catering.
Be warned however, people have begun to discover Grain de Café en masse, and on Saturday mornings, it’s a kill or be killed pastry free-for-all at the counter. Many of the customers are unassuming and not at all what you’d expect at a pastry shop — fit, dressed impeccably, perfectly coiffed. The ladies all look like they’ve just arrived from the south of France and that’s probably because many of them have just arrived from the south of France. Grain de Café is where the French people go for pastry and coffee as well as lunch, because they are accustomed to the real thing.
If you go
What: Grain de Café
Where: 8803 U.S. 41 Trail North, at the Market Place at Pelican Bay, Naples
Phone: (239) 594-8081
Hours: Open Monday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.