John and Judy Correa know what it takes to operate a successful restaurant in Key West.
In fact, they just celebrated the 19th anniversary of Cafe Solé, their fine dining establishment on Southard Street.
But now is apparently not the time to rest on their laurels, as the Correas recently bought the property at 1019 White St., where they have installed Bistro Solé, which opened in January for lunch and dinner.
And John Correa entered his new venture with his eyes wide open, fully acknowledging the string of eateries that have had less than stellar results in that location.
"We had Father Baker bless it before we opened," Correa said laughing while acknowledging local talk of a "jinx" on that property. "And in fact, we're looking for a rabbi, a minister and anyone else's blessings."
But Correa knows it takes more than prayer to pack a restaurant.
"I'm really big on consistency," Correa said Wednesday from the casually elegant courtyard of the new Bistro Solé. "And when it comes to starting a new place in Key West, experience really helps."
But experience isn't everything, he quickly emphasized.
"Regardless of whether they know my name, or they know Cafe Solé, if we serve someone bad food just once, they won't come back. You can honestly lose your reputation in this business in three days."
But that's obviously not the plan for Bistro Solé.
"This is a French-American bistro," Correa said. "It's casual, it's outside; it's much bigger and more spacious than Cafe Solé, and it's much more affordable. We designed this as a locals' restaurant. 'Bistro' means 'working man's restaurant' in French, and that's what we're providing."
Chef Brian Jaskiewicz emphasized the affordability of entrees that range in price from $12 to $20 for dinner, and $8 to $13 for lunch.
"You can come in here two, three nights a week and not get killed on the bill," said daytime Chef Edward "Pork Chop" Krouch.
"And you can come in that often without getting bored with the menu," said Jaskiewicz, who works with Correa each day to create different daily specials that always include a braised "fall off the bone" meat entree.
The $18 braised dinner specials have included osso buco, or veal shank stew; boneless short ribs; beef Bourguignon; lamb shoulder in onions and Belgian beer; slow-roasted suckling pig and coq-au-vin, which is chicken in red wine sauce.
In addition to the specials, the Bistro Solé lunch menu features Correa's famed French onion soup, a leek salad, organic chicken liver, crispy duck, quiche Lorraine, hot roast beef sandwich and a vegetarian garden roll, along with several other options.
Dinner appetizers include escargot, a frisée salad, grilled asparagus and an artichoke heart stuffed with lump crab meat and a truffled orange and lemon sauce.
Evening entrees include a rib-eye steak, duck confit, fresh, local fish, mussels, clams and a flat iron steak.
The bistro also offers a bar menu that is half-price during the daily happy hour.
The outdoor courtyard is spacious and hospitable, with hanging lights, sweeping umbrellas for shade during the day and stand-up heaters for chilly nights.
An inside dining room is decorated with glossy photo prints by David Shield and offers air-conditioned comfort and space for private parties.
Kids are welcome at the bistro, where the menu states, "If the owners are well-behaved, then kids and pets are welcome, too."
"I've really got a great staff, and a great group of people," Correa said, adding that several of his workers go to Key West High School with his daughter, Megan, who spent much of her recent spring break hostessing at her family's new restaurant.
"I've been wanting to do a second location for 15 years, but the timing and the space were never right," said Correa, who bought the Bistro Solé building from Mary Pfund.
"I've always liked the location, and I think the garden is beautiful," he said, excusing himself briefly to personally greet a table of early dinner guests and explain some of the menu items to them in Spanish. "Plus, the kitchen was already in really good shape and Mary was a great seller to work with on this transaction. We really feel good about what we're doing here, and so far people are feeling the same way. That woman at the bar right now -- she's meeting friends here for happy hour, and was just here for lunch today."
And that's how a bistro can break a jinx.