By Jigger Abendano
Café Madeleine, a French hidden gem, is tucked away on the corner of 30th and Juniper Street in San Diego. We stumbled upon this French corner café, one late afternoon, weeks prior while checking out the scene in South Park. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon. The sun was setting over Balboa Park and a balmy 65-degree cold chill was soon to envelope the area.
We stood out front of Café Madeleine. A man inside opened the decorated glass door and invited us in. Inside was a barista and asked if we had any questions about the items on the menu. We recently ate, so we figured we should plan our visit another time. We asked her a couple of questions about the cafe, like when did they open, and who was the owner? She told us that a lady by the name of Christina Perez, inspired and loved all things French, married to a French man, opened the cafe three years ago.
A couple weeks passed and we returned on a sunny Saturday at high noon.
We arrived at what seemed to be a small rush hour at the cafe. After entering the decorated glass door, you’re welcomed by smiling faces. The first question they will ask is, “Have you been to Cafe Madeleine before?” We said yes, but no. They smiled. We ordered a cup of their coffee and a solo espresso.
Person at the counter, the manager, took our drink order and spouted off the drinks to be prepared by baristas near her. She asked if we wanted anything to eat? It was high noon so we were getting pretty hungry. We looked over the food menu. So many items to choose from. Do we want to order a crepe? or maybe a panini? Overcome by the smell of fresh paninis being delivered to another customer, we decided to order the caprese panini and the prosciutto panini. I’ve never heard of such things before.
We sat at one of the corners inside the cafe. It was set-up with corner-bench seating and windows for walls. A barista screams, “table 7!” Then a solo espresso and a single cup of coffee was brought to the table. She came over with a polite smile and said the food should come out shortly. We sat there, listening to French music playing, and enjoyed ambiance of the cafe.
A few French picturesque moments later, food was brought out to join the rest of the coffee. Smell of fresh paninis filled the corner of the cafe, along with the nose-widening hint of espresso in the air. The freshness of the organic greens was screaming to be devoured. Quickly snapping photos, our bellies did the talking and we traded half of our panini for the other, so we both can try how they tasted. It didn’t matter, both were delicious. You can taste, from every single bite, the French passion in this little cafe. It was like the panini was trying to French kiss you at each bite!
The dessert presentation was calling. We head over to see what desserts they have. You can’t go to a French cafe without having dessert. The lady out front told us that the desserts are from Opera Patisserie, another French cafe in San Diego, known for their art of true French Cuisine. It took a minute to decide, but we agreed to try the chocolate croissant.
Seriously, how can you resist this croissant presentation? The smell lingers on your nose. It takes every bit of strength to stop from just grabbing the croissant and taking a bite. The place makes you feel at home, so I almost grabbed one myself.
After a coffee refill, we took a bite of the chocolate-filled croissant and a sip of coffee. Mmmm.
We took our time there, highlighting what was our favorites about the cafe. Too many to name but a question that came up plenty was the clandestine nature of this cafe. How long, have we lived in San Diego, and this is only our first time. Perhaps, the people that visit love it so much, they want to keep it a secret? Cafe Madeleine, currently, doesn’t even have a website online. Only fragments of people’s experiences through Yelp or Café Madeleine’s Facebook Page.
We sat, as if in a French movie, and watched the crowd come in and out. Order their espressos, chai tea lattes, and Oranginas. We saw a man walk in with his daughter and goes into the back office. He seems to be the French man we were told about. He kissed one of the ladies behind the counter, there was Christina. That was her husband, and the girl was their daughter. He walked around the Cafe, paused a couple of seconds to listen to the French music, arranged some of the drinks to make sure they were facing the customers the right way, making sure that everything in that cafe, was how it would be if he was back home in France.
Lunch rush had passed and the outdoor seats were free again. We grab iced coffees to continue our day to the South Mission Beach Jetty, to see the effects of this Polar Vortex they speak of. We took a last look at Café Madeleine and said “adieu.” We will have to return again and try out their crepes.
Have you been to Café Madeleine? What did you order?
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