Versailles was a place that our parents or grandparents would frequent- not us. They would have a cafecito or something light to eat. As we got older, it was the place to hit at 3 AM after the clubs because you were ravenous and spent and needed something to hit the spot. And then when I married, it was the place we would go for a meal that was not too expensive because we were just starting out. We would run into some local Miami celebrities occasionally and we avoided it when the politicians were in town. We wanted comfort food, not a show. Eventually, our financial situation improved, and we started to frequent more expensive places down in the Gables when we wanted to go out on a Friday or Saturday evening. Versailles was now reserved for those out-of-town guests who wanted to do something “Cuban” while they were in town visiting. They wanted to check out the place they had heard about. So, we would take them there and roll our eyes when the large tourist buses would pull up with more visitors. Then, the girls were born. Where do you take two toddlers that eat simple breakfast food yet would never eat everything so it had to be cheap but would also give us our much-needed café con leche? Yes, Versailles was now the perfect family restaurant.
On January 9, 2016, my husband of twenty years passed away leaving me with our 5 and 7-year-old daughters. Friends and family from all over the United States came into town for the wake, funeral, burial, and to help me pull my life back together. When it was all said and done, my three girlfriends and I went to Versailles for lunch before two of them flew back home. It was a moment of reprieve. And there, in the midst of my grief, my friend Ana started telling me Alvarez Guedes jokes as we waited for our cafecito. It was the first time I had laughed in weeks. It felt good to laugh among friends, familiar food, and in a place that my husband and I had sat in so many times over so many years for so many different reasons. The large boisterous restaurant enveloped me with its arms of comfort. I was surrounded by people who were my neighbors, by the smell of the foods I had grown up to my entire life, and the voices bouncing off the glass walls were all familiar accents. I felt safe and at home. And as I laughed, I realized that it was going to be OK. That I was going to make it. To this day, I still walk into Versailles and can’t help but smile remembering this particular moment above all other moments in the restaurant. It was a turning point.
I still go to Versailles. I’ve had some business meetings there; the girls have gone back with me for breakfast; I’ll stop to pick up some pastelitos for the office; the out-of-town guests still get their required visit; and yes- I’ve even had a few dates there. It has been a constant in my ever-changing life, and it brings me a sense of stability when I am there. It is a place that has allowed me to slowly rebuild my new life by staying the same and continuing to be reliable.
And it is still the best place to hit at 3 AM after a night of dancing…. patria y comida.