When an old restaurant brand has lost its edge, and the phrase ‘never again’ keeps coming up in reviews and social conversations, it’s time to call it quits. Mimi’s Café closed in Orlando (as well as other locations) earlier this year, and it appeared that no one shed a tear in its absence.
The restaurant chain is back, with a new ‘French inspired’ menu, a new French Culinary Institute trained chef, and a French management company, Le Duff America, Inc, known for brands like La Madeleine, Bruegger’s Bagels, and Au Pain Doré in France.
Mimi’s says that “several items that will transport guests to a quaint French bistro with their first bite”. The press release stated that the “new menus promise a return to Mimi’s classic French roots, featuring beloved dishes found in neighborhood cafes throughout France including Coq Au Vin, Bouillabaisse, and Sole Meunière”.
We arrived for the media dinner, and upon entry saw Mimi’s strange, same old décor. As someone in the lobby described it: a mix of Disney-esque whimsy meets Cracker Barrel, French posters of chickens, taxidermy, and kitschy art covering the walls, with homey oak wood tables and tall oak dividers throughout the space.
Ah, the décor. This brought back memories of my first Mimi’s dining experience. I was working for an interior design and architecture firm that specialized in hospitality and high end residences. My boss was overweight, and had what could only be referred to as a nightmarish food palate.
Arby’s was his go-to sandwich spot, the smell of greasy soul food a regular find in the office trash, and if a restaurant served chicken in some sort of unidentifiable cream sauce, he’d be there. (I can personally say that I do love a good bowl of collards.)
In those days, Mimi’s Café was known for their home cookin’ style, and he would make a beeline for it at any opportunity. I don’t recall our order, but I do recall taking longer to choose something than usual, because healthy options were difficult to be found on the menu, and greasy foods did not agree with me. I also recall him commenting on how ‘God awful’ and confusing the design and interior ambiance were. That was an understatement, alas, we weren’t there for the decor.
Although on our recent visit, we were a bit crest fallen to see that not much inside had changed, our expectations were still high for the food and drink. (Dear lord, please take down the taxidermy. And the metal chickens.)
As we entered, we were greeted with a cocktail of Freixnet (a sparkling Cava from Spain) and St. Germain (French elderflower liqueur). Spanish wine at a ‘French inspired’ restaurant? Not exactly in keeping with the theme, and not my personal preference in sparkling, but alas, we hoped perhaps the rest of the wine menu and pairings would be a better match. A few moments later, we were called to be seated.
As dishes began to arrive, a waiter appeared with still wine. Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc ($12.99 SRP, California) was the white of choice, and made us wonder-has Mimi’s even given thought to their wine menu at all?
We took at peek at the wine menu on their website: Canyon Road ($5.49/bottle SRP), Mirassou ($9.99 SRP), Red Diamond ($10.99+ SRP), La Terre ($5.99 SRP), and finally the lone French brand, Cadet d’Oc Cabernet Savignon and Chardonnay, ($7.99 to 11.99 SRP).
It read like the selection in the wine aisle at Walmart, and a disappointment, given that today’s wine drinkers-young and old-are more savvy and sophisticated. Better, still affordable wines are readily available from around the globe (including France!). The wine selection offered at Mimi’s Café is just poorly thought through, and appears to be created by someone who neither understands quality, nor what it what it means to be a ‘French inspired’ restaurant.
The first dish out to the table was Mussels à la Mimi’s, listed as ‘steamed in white wine, garlic and fresh herbs’, served with what the restaurant refers to as ‘garlic French baguette croutons’. In reality, these were mussels covered in a rather thick, heavy butter sauce. We were told it was Meunière, but Meunière is normally browned, and this was not. It was, most definitely, a lot of butter. The mussels were warm, garlicky, and although I was expecting something lighter to start the meal, they were still tasty.
We could not say the same for the bread. What arrived with the mussels were large slices of very buttery garlic toast. Prepare to get messy. I broke off a piece, and wiped my hands. Hopefully butter-less bread would arrive.
The second dish out was a warm brie, granny smith apples, and apricot chutney, with toasted slices of French bread that had also been heavily buttered. Even more heavily buttered toast arrived. This was not looking good.
On their own, the apples, brie, and chutney were simple, but a nice combination. It’s not a large dish, so if you’re splitting between more than two persons, don’t expect more than a bite or two. This is an entire dish of cheese, so ultimately, that might be best.
A seafood mini crepe was delivered to the table, filled with small shrimp, scallops and spinach in creamy lobster sauce. This was a good dish, the seafood tasting fresh, although we were told they had been previously frozen. Fair enough for a chain restaurant where consistency is important. The crepe was light and thin, but held up to a fork and knife well. At 270 calories, it’s a healthier option than other appetizers on the menu, and perfect to share with a friend.
More bread finally arrived, but this time, it was Mimi’s carrot raisin bread, and a petite French baguette. Made with molasses, spices, raisins and shredded carrots, the dark slices were from a loaf version of their breakfast muffin. High in flavor, but one muffin will set you back 830 calories. The petite French baguette was perfect. Crisp exterior, soft, chewy interior, with only a fraction of flour still remaining on the crust. I wish it had been around for the mussels.
My soup was delivered piping hot, and the chef sat down with us to talk ingredients. At the top of the cup was a bubbling, broiled piece of cheese. “Gruyere?”, I asked. “No, just Swiss”, said the chef. The soup was decently flavored, but the broth admittedly was not made in house, and without the Gruyere, it was missing something. If there was a croute (toasted bread) beneath the cheese, it had been fully assimilated into the liquid.
I asked Chef Katie if these were her new recipes, and she said no. These were Mimi’s old recipes, recently found in storage. We were slow
ly beginning to see that what Mimi’s considers to be “classic French roots” were far from anything French culture and tradition might ever have intended them to be. This might have worked when authenticity and global awareness for food cultures was slim, but not any more. We were disappointed.
Entrees arrived quickly. Mimi’s describes the Sole dish as: Petrale sole, lightly dusted in seasoned flour and sautéed, served on top of a meunière sauce with capers. Served with a side of provençal potatoes and sautéed garlic spinach.
One would generally expect a small plating of sauce beneath the fish (a nice touch to avoid soggy breading), with sides. No, this was an entire plate filled with more of the same (still unbrowned) ‘Meunière’ sauce, with potatoes and spinach on a separate plate. The filet was a generous size, but I’d rather see this all on one plate, and about 75% less sauce. No one needs that much butter and cream in one sitting. Let’s not talk about the fact that Provençal potatoes generally contain tomatoes and onions. These were quite delicious, but roasted with herbs, salt, and pepper. No tomatoes in sight.
Here’s a classic recipe for Sole Meuniere.
The corn chowder was bland, and missing something in depth of flavor. Not terrible, but not crave-worthy as far as soups go.
The salad was a generous portion, and my partner said that he’d order it again. Fair warning, this is not a healthy entree. At 930 calories, and 58 grams of fat, this is one of the worst items you can choose if you’re trying to stay fit. Make this dish healthier by asking what Mimi’s is putting on the fish prior to or after grilling (hold the butter!), take the yolks out of the eggs, and ask for the dressing on the side (it’s likely the culprit).
Another dish that was passed around the table: Pasta Carbonara. I love carbonara, but this is an Italian dish, and once again, did not fit with the given theme. We’d rather see Mimi’s put their brunch quiche on the dinner menu, or if pasta is a requirement, perhaps fettuccini cordon bleu?
Another diner ordered the Coq au Vin, which, although we did not taste it, he said was quite delicious.
Also on the menu was a Brioche Croque Madame, an open-faced ham and Swiss sandwich with Mornay sauce on a brioche bun, topped with a fried egg. At 890 calories, 59 grams of fat, and over 370 milligrams of cholesterol, this dish packs a wallop. If you must indulge (on rare occasions), please share, and order a side salad, no dressing.
By this time, dessert was on the way, with Mimi’s brunch specialty waffles in Strawberry Perdu (strawberry sauce over a waffle stuffed with orange marmalade and cream cheese), and apple maple bacon.
These waffles were about the same as what you’d buy from the grocery store freezer. They were both very sweet, with too much syrup-the dish was mushy and soft by the time it hit the table. I would question by the consistency of the syrup whether this was real maple syrup, or the high fructose corn syrup variety.
It would be nice to see Mimi’s Café serve something like crème brulee or a Crepe Suzette on their dessert menu, as they are currently missing anything French, short of a chocolate mousse, and that chocolate lava cake just reminds us of TGI Friday’s next door. The chef has crepes down to a science-this would be a welcome addition, and add a little something extra that truly reminds guests of a café in Paris.
The night ended with boxes of bakery items. We tried these the next day, and although the flake was still perfect on the croissants, and the multi-grain a twist on the traditional white flour versions, we’re not sure if these are made in house, or bought, as there’s a tin-like flavor that usually comes from preservatives.
If you’re looking for a ‘French’ experience, Mimi’s Cafe is not it. If you enjoy rich dishes with lots of butter, sauces, and aren’t worried about calories, Mimi’s Café is your place. It’s reminiscent of a slightly upgraded Cracker Barrel, and we do hear the brunch is popular.
Healthy options are hard to find, as is anything vegan/vegetarian. Mimi’s does have a 550 Calories or Less section on their breakfast and dinner menus, but watch the fat. Be sure to check their nutritional information before you order. We do appreciate that this is available, as it can help diners who wish to eat smart.
Mimi’s Café really needs to give some serious thought as to what they want to be: highly unhealthy dishes posing as faux French cuisine, or true French inspired casual dining, thoughtfully prepared to balance indulgence with lower calories and fat.
According to Phil Costner, Mimi’s new president, remodeling and overhaul of the brand image is underway. “We brought the culinary team together and said, ‘lets really understand what Mimi’s looked like, tasted like 20 years ago,’” said Costner. “We’ll stop at nothing to re-create this.”
The problem remains: this isn’t 20 years ago. Instead of trying to resurrect a tired, old brand image that needed to go, Costner and Le Duff should take a step back, and put Chef Katie Sutton to work creating something better, as she’s entirely capable of doing. Americans deserve authenticity, healthy choices, and a true representation of what real French foods, culture, and cuisine is about. Anything less is just shameful.
- Mussels à la Mimi’s – 1,090 calories per bowl, 65 grams of fat
- Artisan Baked Brie – 650 calories, 49 grams of fat
- French Onion soup (cup) -250 calories, 14 grams of fat
- Corn Chowder soup (cup) – 270 calories, 16 grams of fat
- Sole Meunière – 660 calories, 40 grams of fat
- Grilled Salmon Salade Niçose - 930 calories, 58 grams of fat
- Pasta Carbonara – 1,180 calories, 61 grams of fat
- Coq au Vin – 860 calories, 38 grams of fat
- Brioche Croque Madame – 890 calories, 59 grams of fat
- Strawberry Waffle Perdu – 540 calories, 23 grams of fat
- Bacon Apple Waffle – 970 calories, 33 grams of fat
See their nutritional information for other menu items.