Entertainment: Foodies – Café Monte French Bakery and Bistro (Peek Inside the Current Issue)
Café Monte French Bakery and Bistro honors the sacred tradition of a leisurely yet decadent ladies’ brunch. Located in the Allen Tate building in SouthPark, owner Monte Smith has created a Parisian-style escape where mothers and daughters, girlfriends, and families can set down their heavy Nordstrom bags to dine on a plate of savory crepes. Even before noon, you can have your eggs and stuff crab and lobster in them too.
The French-inspired cuisine at Café Monte is more Julia Child than textbook escargot. “We’re not your typical frou-frou type of a French restaurant,” Smith says, who has traveled to the City of Lights and around the world during his almost 30 year career. “We keep the French traditions of cooking, but we are not pretending to be French.” The blend of French and American aesthetics is at the heart of Smith’s concept of a casual café with gourmet food.
The spark for Café Monte ignited in 2007, when Smith saw a need for a neighborhood dining destination with personality. “SouthPark had lots of chain restaurants at the time,” he says. “We wanted to bring a little individual flare.” Smith modeled the original concept on Amelie’s Bakery in the NoDa district, which chiefly serves bakery items. However, there was a greater desire for cuisine in SouthPark. Smith opened the restaurant in April 2008 and managed to ride out a rocky economy. Today, “things seem to be moving in the right direction,” he says.
Café Monte’s menu boasts over 50 brunch, lunch, and dinner items, including the chicken salad croissant sandwich, spinach salad, and Eggs Benedict. On the last Tuesday of every month, the restaurant hosts a wine tasting paired with a four-to-five course dinner. Chef Ben Philpott ensures that much of the ingredients come from local ranchers and farmers. Although commercial vendors must supplement high demand, Smith strives to serve local food. “We do support that as much as we can,” he says.
Smith’s career in restaurants began in 1982 while living in Texas. The restaurateur, who grew up in South America, worked in the major culinary markets of Chicago, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. He came to Charlotte 15 years ago and worked with The Palm Restaurant for 11 years. He was also the general manager for Quail Hollow Country Club.
On Sunday mornings, Café Monte’s exclusive “satellite office” features a special guest chef. Smith serves up comfort food to wife Connie and their three children: Whole wheat French toast and sautéed bananas with a splash of brandy or rum. “I get the most smiles out of that dish,” he says. The family man brings that personal touch to his café customers as well. “We hope they feel at home,” he says.