Reservation for One: French Market

French Market. All photos by Aaron Leimkuehler

As one of the key families instrumental in manifesting French café culture in Kansas City, the Quillecs have, for the last 25 years, been creating spaces and dishes that have allowed us to experience France through their culinary lens. It’s been a family affair since the beginning, when in 1998 they opened their first restaurant, Hannah’s Bistro on 39th Street, with Patrick Quillec as the chef in the kitchen.

Today, Café Provence serves as the Quillec’s flagship French restaurant in The Shops at Prairie Village. During the last 20 years they have been open, many family members have taken their turn in the kitchen or serving on the floor, creating a kind of familial muscle memory inside that restaurant that gets passed down from generation to generation. The result is a consistent experience across two decades of dining that has earned them a long and loyal following.

Potato croquettes

In 2013, the family opened French Market, a tiny little retail store selling crepes and a variety of French staples. Six years later, Joanne and Patrick Quillec would move their popular market just a few doors down into a much larger spot in the Prairie Village shops with their son, Noah, now managing the new and improved French Market and another son, Phillip, serving as executive chef. In addition to the obvious family talent involved here, Amy Beeman serves as pastry chef for French Market with Claire Heiman as head baker. These two pastry talents are responsible for keeping the pastry cases and bread baskets full of elegant European pastries, French macarons, and more, and it’s also the hub where diners gather at the end of their meal to see what they want for dessert.     

From the moment they opened French Market in this new space, it was clear this was a completely different animal than their previous spaces. The new market now had a restaurant and bar. It’s more spacious and casual, with an upbeat and lively vibe, especially compared to the more subdued tone of its big sister restaurant, Café Provence. From the warm woods and colorful wallpaper to the white globe lights above the bar and the indoor and outdoor seating options, French Market had finally evolved into the vivacious French café it was always meant to be.

I found myself sitting at the bar at French Market with a girlfriend around 4 p.m., and by 5 o’clock the outdoor patio was packed, and by 6 o’clock the indoor dining room was the same. A true neighborhood favorite, French Market recently expanded their hours and launched a true dinner menu, and that is what I was there to eat.

The Hannah sandwich

The dinner menu is a one-page affair that changes seasonally, with a cohesive list of soup, salads, and small plates, and finally a few entrées that are always on the menu. That typically means they are too popular to remove, and that’s a good sign you should order them. So, I did. My bartender/waitress after a second glass of chilled Lillet rosé, suggested the poulet (chicken) cordon bleu, which my friend seconded along with a side of the carrot chickpea salad with cumin vinaigrette, which was served cold, had a good crunch, and was spiked with earthy cumin spice. I added the steak frites to our order because I wasn’t leaving without having this classic dish served with Hannah fries and a side of pesto aioli, an old favorite from their original restaurant menu.

Chicken cordon bleu is such an old-school dish one might dismiss it, but it is a classic for a reason. Here it was expertly prepared using an Amish chicken breast pounded thin, filled with a layer of Jamon de Paris ham and Emmental cheese before it is folded over then dipped in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs and fried golden brown. It’s topped with a tangy Dijon mustard cream sauce and served with a simple salad verte (a salad made with nothing but lettuce) with a zippy parsley and tarragon dressing. Everything about eating this dish was a delight. Cutting through its crispy exterior to find tender breast meat with salty ham and nutty cheese oozing out of the center was so extremely satisfying and comforting, and the green salad balances the richness with a leafy, cool crunch and a whisper of dressing.

The steak frites came exactly as advertised. You get a seared eight-ounce medallion of beef tenderloin topped with the vinegar tang and bright green parsley flavor of chimichurri. As good as the beef is, the pommes frites might be the star of the dish, especially when dunked in a side of their creamy pesto aioli. It is the best of both worlds, meat and potatoes.

For dessert, we ordered a slice of the cake of the day, which was coconut, and were treated to a light, white cake, frosted with buttercream and topped with a serious dusting of coconut. Although it was a bit cold when served, once it warmed to the room, the coconut flavor became more pronounced.

French Market is fun. A joyfully easy dining experience, complete with delicious dishes, excellent desserts, and a nice French wine list. They are serving some of the most popular American fan favorites of French cuisine, but what I learned from my dinner at the French Market is that café classics, executed beautifully, are like eating the prettiest comfort food made from the best quality ingredients.

How could that not be delicious?

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