Benjamin Coquillou, owner/baker at the Benjamin French Bakery in Thornton Park, has a secret desire. “When I was young,” the native of Bordeaux, France, says, “I loved the sweet. Now, if I could, I would just cook the savory and not do pastry at all.”
That’s a radical, and some would say foolish, idea from someone so skilled at crafting vanilla cream-laced croissants, lemon tarts, puffy little macarons and airy choux chocolat. But then a five-inch-round la Montagne quiche arrives, moist chunks of chicken breast surrounded by egg, goat cheese and a confit of caramelized onions. Or le Bordeaux, a hearty and delightfully crunchy rustic baguette filled with creamy Brie, sliced apple and black grapes drizzled with Balsamic vinegar. Or a friand, a cupcake-looking cake stuffed with spinach, sweet onion and salty feta. You begin to see that perhaps this Frenchman is pas folle du tout—not crazy at all.
The restaurant business remains in Coquillou’s blood; his great-great grandmother cooked seafood for visitors in a seaside cottage still used by her descendants, and Coquillou’s wife, daughter and son work in his cozy boulangerie. Lunch business is brisk in this bustling neighborhood; Benjamin stays busy making each item by hand, and he is looking to the future. “I want a wall of doors that open to the street, and a bar where people can see their food being made.” He glances out onto busy Washington Street as dreams of expansion play in his head. “My wife says I have crazy ideas, but just wait.”
716 E. Washington St., Orlando
— Joseph Hayes