Bienvenue! Welcome! Are you aware that a charming, quaint French market (and restaurant) has opened in Boca Raton? Gourmet Market, owned and operated by Nicolas and Cathy Vernet, will surprise and tantalize. This likable couple met in Paris in 2010 while both were working in the food industry and decided while on vacation in South Florida in 2014, that their expertise could fill a noticeable void in this area.
They opened Gourmet Market almost a year ago with the desire to fill it with true authentic French brands that they import themselves. “I’ve brought many fancy foods from Paris,” Nicolas said. The market is varied and well-stocked, with shelves brimming with attractive and interesting brands you won’t find in your local market. Your eyes will try to take it all in so take your time. I was lucky to be given “a tour” by Nicolas. He pointed out the organized sections of teas, chocolate bars, mustards, olive oils, the glass refrigerated cases with meats and with cheeses, and, oh la la, the wines.
Beginning with the cheeses, you will want to spend time just gazing at the unique names and learning a bit about them. “We are a cheese importer,” said Nicolas, “and I usually buy a whole wheel.” Though the cheeses with truffles are the most popular, it’s hard to resist an overwhelming desire to want to try them all. One cheese, for example, Comté is aged for 24 months. “This is important, “Nicolas explained, “because in the U.S. you can only find it aged for 6 months.” The quality of the cheese is so important to Nicolas and Cathy that they call France to order it and have it flown into Miami where it is carefully inspected by FDA officers at the airport before being allowed to enter the country. They also go to the food shows in New York City where they have met U.S. suppliers. “I try to learn and to improve everyday,” said Nicolas. “People want good food.”
You will find a cheese here to suit every taste. Comté is somewhat mild but there’s a very sharp Roquefort, too. In fact, Gourmet Market carries sheep, cow and goat cheeses, as well as cheeses from other countries such as England and Italy (including organic Parmesan and the “Moliterno al Tartufo.” Nicolas assures, “you will love it.” One cheese called “Tete de Moine” (“Monk’s Head”) comes in a very large chunk that has to be shaved off into small bite-size tastes, and then, there is Raclette from the French Alps… well, that is another entire story.
Gourmet Market owns a special device in which to warm the cheese and then scrape off the melted part onto pork, duck, beef or even just potatoes. “I share the machine,” Nicolas said. “You buy the stuff, borrow the machine, and return our machine when finished. The best customers I can have are in Boca.”
As I visited Gourmet Market, three or four French-speaking ladies sat and ate generous and wholesome looking salads for lunch that contained organic greens, carrots, cilantro, garlic, French olive oil, and Dijon mustard. Cathy Vernet said, “our salad is very popular because it’s so healthy; sugar is never added.”
Gourmet Market has Parisian brands of teas—green, white and black, and also loose or in tea bags. Even the tea bags are special, made of abaca pulp which is a natural fiber that comes from banana plant leaves grown in the Philippines. There are so many varieties of teas that every day Gourmet Market puts out a fresh pot of a different type for customers to try.
Moving around the shop, it’s hard to re- sist the fresh, ready-to-eat foie gras, the little jars of luxurious caviar (Beluga, Osetra), the escargot (snails) in the freezer and ready to go, and, of course, the wall of wines. Atop one glass case rests a proud little jar of truffles, a small mushroom-like delicacy that is the darling of French cuisine. “We sell a lot of truffle stuff, “ Nicolas said, “truffle cheese, olive oil, salt, honey, mustard. We love truffles here.”
Also on the counter, long thin loaves of French bread stands up in a container but not for long as customers are continually dropping by to pick them up. ‘We have the best baguettes you can find, “ Cathy said. “I bake every day. We open at 8 a.m. and they are fresh and ready.” Her words stir images of customers wearing berets and riding bikes home with their daily fresh-baked baguette purchase in their baskets.
We can’t leave without reveling in the choice and quality of wines. Gourmet Market carries the favorite French B’s: Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Beaujolais as well as many others. You’ll find real Champagne, bought only from a French producer, Pinot Noir, Malbec and even a French Kosher wine. Just as Gourmet Market freely provides samples of teas, so it offers complimentary wine tastings on the first Friday of each month at 6 p.m.
Planning a party? Gourmet Market has catered for events at the Boca Museum, for weddings and private parties. Asked how they are able to keep so slim and svelte while being surrounded and tempted by such heavenly specialties, Nicolas said, “we don’t eat a lot; we eat good.” He added, “every epicure comes here. They know that my knowledge and Cathy’s, help us provide the best for our guests.”
Stop by this tidy little European gem on Federal Highway and try the authentic pate, the fresh baked bread, Quiche Lorraine or a homemade pastry. Voila! You’ll feel like you’ve taken a trip to Paris but without the airfare and the jet lag.
Gourmet Market is conveniently located at 2800 North Federal Highway in Boca Raton. ph: 561-609-2686 • gourmetmarketboca.com