Thomas Keller Fuels Up On Cuban Coffee At Versailles Bakery When In Miami

Chef Thomas Keller has a soft spot for Florida. The California-born chef moved to Palm Beach at the age of seven and quickly began his legendary career by cooking in local restaurants. The triple Michelin-starred chef and Chevalier now has over 10 restaurants of his own, including Miami's Bouchon Bistro, which opened in early 2023. However, whenever he's in Miami, Keller's go-to order is an espresso from Versailles Bakery's to-go window, specifically its Espresso Cubano, as he tells Travel and Leisure.

If you've never tried it before, café Cubano (aka cafecito) is a type of espresso in which demerara sugar is brewed directly with the coffee grounds. Hot water passes through both the finely-ground dark roast beans and the sugar at the same time, producing a sweet, smooth, tempered cup with a much stronger flavor and caffeine content than other coffees. A larger version of a café Cubano made with four to six shots of espresso is called a colada; add steamed milk and it becomes a cortadito. If you use a larger cup with a higher ratio of milk than espresso, that's a café con leche — and Versailles Bakery serves all of these variations, plus Americanos and iced coffees.

A taste of cultural history

Espresso Cubano is typically served in a ceramic demitasse cup. But, at drive-thru or walk-up windows (aka "ventanitas") like the one at Versailles, a small plastic or Styrofoam cup gets the job done. Even without the ceramic, there's no doubt about Versailles Bakery's dedication to quality and heritage. Coffee is an important part of Cuban gastronomic culture

Versailles Restaurant opened in Miami in 1971, and the bakery was added later, selling coffee and pastries. Aiming to attract an audience with the growing population of Cuban immigrants, founder Felipe Valls designed Versailles as a place with high-quality offerings for affordable prices. As the website explains, "He wanted his customers to leave happier than when they arrived ... His business model was likewise sim­ple. Provide your patrons with a great meal at a fair price, and they will keep coming back."

While affordability might not be what Keller's restaurants are known for, the chef has been outspoken about his reverence for the power of food as a unifier and spiritual motivator. As he stated in his 1999 publication, "The French Laundry Cookbook," "When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: To make people happy, that is what cooking is all about."