As I have become increasingly busy – due to my commitments as an instructor, my writing, my work related to sports, and my being on the radio, to name a few things – I haven’t had much of a chance to update this site. I have, therefore, been seeking help from “guest posters” among my circle. Here’s a guest post from food writer/blogger Franco Salzillo.
Playa del Carmen is an exciting small town on the coast of the Mexican Caribbean Sea. Tourists visit Playa every year to enjoy the warm, humid, tropical weather; the exotic flora; and the exuberant nightlife. The food is good too: there’s an astonishing number of eateries, bars, and restaurants catered to every conceivable palate along the touristy 5th Avenue. From all options, a few really stand out.
Chez Celine, a Provençal Boulangerie and Patisserie with an artisanal scope, is one of the favorite spots for locals, expats and tourists alike. For breakfast, lunch, or dinner, this lovely corner shop offers an authentic French culinary experience.
The first thing you see are small wooden tables set on the sidewalk. The ambiance is relaxed even when the place is always at least half packed. I was lucky on my last visit and got a table right away, it’s not uncommon to have to wait a few minutes for a spot. The smell of freshly baked bread is overwhelming. The laughter of happy diners blends with classic bistro French music and the sound of vital ceiling fans.
Service is prompt and friendly, Café au lait for me, and a cappuccino for my wife, just to browse through the menu. In Chez Celine, you take your time. A scooter abruptly parked in front of our table and a young man hopped off to rush to the counter. In less than a minute he was gone with a couple of baguettes under his arm, bread here has quite a reputation.
You can order from a wide variety of dishes: omelets; savory or sweet crepes; sandwiches and other French staple dishes, not just from Provence, but from Paris and Normandy too. I ordered a perfect croque-madame, a ham and cheese brioche sandwich crowned with a sunny side up. We shared ricotta and spinach crepes, which were also delicate and made with care.
On another visit, I enjoyed a pristine onion soup and a cheese platter, but in both visits, the best came at the end. Chez Celine is famous for their artisanal pastries: Fruit tarts, eclairs, cakes, and croissants are baked through the day, to ensure there’s always something fresh and warm. A colorful display of baked goods is showcased in a retro-style display by the register. Look up and see the chefs working nonstop in the small kitchen.
The phrase ‘Save room for dessert’ was coined for places like this one. There’s magic going on the tight bakery in the back. A strawberry and whip cream éclair was delightful, and a white chocolate and blueberry tart was so pretty I had a hard time messing with it.
In the end, Chez Celine helps build the city’s character. An island of French finesse blended seamlessly in a tropical paradise. Ain’t this why we travel?