By Donna Drejza
Phone: (703) 836-1404
The minute I walked in to this “Year in Provence” yellow restaurant, I felt love. Since Alexandria’s Chez Andree opened in 1964, many a marriage was sparked in this romantic slice of Paris. Indeed, the lovely namesake Andree met Stanley Lecureux, a regular customer, who would become her husband. Their son Steve met his wife when she worked there as a bus girl. He now carries the torch for the restaurant as Chez Andree celebrates its 50th year.
Authentic French cuisine for over 50 years. Photo by Greg Knott.
Before I tell the story, imagine yourself on an early autumn afternoon having Oysters Rockefeller and a glass of Pouilly Fuisse on the sun-splashed terrace.
The senior Lecureuxs were urban pioneers before the phrase had even been coined. The place was full of beer-drinking railroad-workers when it opened. It is hard to imagine going from that dreary spectacle, to this little French find. I think it had everything to do with the mystical beauty of this Andree woman. The Cleopatra of the neighborhood. Men were drawn to her. To the point of shoot outs —one right through the heavy old metal cash register, which Mr. Lecureux said saved his life.
Andree, had worked in restaurants in Paris where she had to cook for the Germans during the occupation of France. Later she would work in a chocolate factory, which frankly sounds much nicer. In the late 1950’s, she left with her five children from an early marriage and came to the U.S. Here she started the roadside bar at this very location. Each night a handsome man, Stanley Lecureux would come in and order from her. Andree and Stanley eventually married and opened the French restaurant—cooking what were her grandmother’s recipes.
Back then, the neighborhood was not the best—and I’m putting that nicely. The pair faced robberies, riots, and a flood. In 1972 Hurricane Agnes stormed through the restaurant and the wine cellar, washing away all the labels from their French wines, including their supply of vintage 1969 Château Lafite Rothschild wines. Through out the bumps in the road, the pair worked side by side bonding their deep long love. While Andree lives on, Stanley, sadly has “ Il mourut et alla au paradis.”
I found all this out when I met with Steve Lecureux, the natural son of both Andree and Stanley. One can see the hint of German and English that he inherits from his father’s side, with his dark hair, blue eyes and ready dimples. Steve and his wife, who originates from Honduras, have a total of five children, some of whom work at Chez Andree on school breaks. The third generation is taking over this family establishment, with Steve’s niece, Jessica Fudge, as manger.
Chef Ahmed in the wine cellar. Photo by greg Knott.
It’s easy to find at 10 E. Glebe with the Dijon colored exterior. I walked past an outdoor terrace with wrought iron tables and flowers. Once inside I felt the lively and “Cheers” friendly bar. The main dining room is adorned with old French with paintings by Renoir and Cezanne, and little tables with lace table cloths. It is not a trendy Euro French décor, instead it’s a step back in time— and that’s a good thing.
You can practically hear Edith Piaf singing in the bar. They do play her from time to time, but there is a limit to the number of times the friendly staff can hear “La Vie En Rose”, without becoming “completement fous.”
The experience reminded me of the winter I drove from Heidelberg to Paris with my sister. It was our first time in Europe, 1994, and well before cell phone and the Euro. We had a little guide to French inns, and just pulled up and asked for a room. The magical part was the fine little French Mom & Pop restaurants connected to the inns. We had mussels, and pate and little glasses of French wine for a song. To me, Chez Andree is like going back to that time. My trip to Paris was twenty years ago, but oddly the prices at Chez Andree are about the same. A glass of wine is $7.25 and so is the duck pate. It is hard to believe it is 2014 and it’s harder to believe this little authentic French restaurant is in Alexandria.
Some snowy night, leave the kids with the baby sitter and visit Chez Andree. Have the Coquie a vien and a glass of wine from the Pomerol region. You’ll probably pay the babysitter more than than for the wine. With Washington DC restaurants entering the stratosphere of New York and London prices, I was amazed at being able to order an entire bottle of French wine for $22. This is what people are paying for a glass of wine in Downtown DC.
Get an Uber car and tell them to drive you to France; no rush, just get there by 1964. Chez Andree: It’s the chance you missed to go to France with the one you love.
I’ve saved the best for last —the food. For dinner, how about starting with Oysters Rockefeller? The gooey cheese and hint of Pernod make it special; or try the Mussels Provençale with Prince Edward mussels baked with garlic broth. This savory broth was so good, I went through three pieces of bread.
The dinner entrees include: Chicken livers with mushrooms, shallots and red wine sauce for $15.95; Veal Sheri with mushrooms, cream and sherry for $21.95. Seafood crepes with crab, shrimp and scallops in a Chardonnay cream sauce. Duck a l’orange; Filet mignon aux Béarnaise wrapped in bacon; Steak Au Poive, Rack of Lamb, are a few more.
Lunches are also quite reasonable with a Caesar salad only $5.75;
A half pound burger for $7.50; other examples are the Salmon salad $13.95 or Grilled Salmon Hollandaise $13.95.
They offer a few specials as added enticement, but please check times and days of week when making reservations; I don’t want people mad at me because they were too late for early bird.
Chez Andree offers a two-course Dinner for two and a bottle of wine $39.95. There are too many options to list here, but I think I’d have French onion soup and the Roast pork; or the Caesar salad and the poached salmon.
Brunch features entrees such as eggs Benedict for $9.95 and Chesapeake eggs Benedict with lump crab meat for $12.95. Mimosa or bloody Mary are only $3.50. See, it’s like going back in time.
An Early Bird special, which includes: appetizer, entrée and dessert is offered for $26.95 per person. (A wonderful choice would be the Escargot du Bourgogne, followed by the Trout Almandine, and finally Mousse au Chocolat.)
The professional waiter and manager Mark, has been here for over 20 years. He says if it weren’t for the excellent food, he never would have stayed on that long. That and the Lecureux family, whom he clearly adores. He adds that Steve keeps the staff and clients happy.
Here is the secret to this little French treasure: the wine prices are well below market. (Hurry and go before Steve reads this!)
Okay I’ll start with Veuve Clicquot for only $89. The rest of the DC metro area charges $120 to $170.
Yes, they have American wines, like the Raymond Chardonnay for $34 per bottle, but you can get that anywhere. This is an opportunity to go to France, if only in your head. A full bottle of Chateau Fleur de Rigaud, Superior Cuvee Prestige, Bordeaux is only $22. They could charge that just for having to have type that many words in the menu.
The most expensive French red is a Chateau Lanlande, St. Julian, Bordeaux for $71. Who are these people? Have they been over the Memorial Bridge? Okay now for the French whites: A Macon Lugny “Les Charmes,” Burgandy is $25 for an entire bottle. The top is a 2007 Merusault , La Boure Roi, “Les Chevaliers” Burgandy for $75.
Glasses start of wine run from $7.25 (Yes there is a less expensive wine, but I suggest they keep it a secret and in the basement, like a crazy aunt.) The top wine by the glass is $8.95 to for a Region 1 Reserve Malbec. If you know nothing about wines, at least know there is rarely a bad Malbec and the Wine Spectator gives this one 87 points.
Most of the desserts are made in house. Save room some night for Crème Brulee, or butterscotch bread pudding or the Profiteroles.
There is a trend of cool people vowing to keep independent places alive, otherwise the world will devolve into a sea of soulless Olive Gardens. The legacy of Chez Andree is one romantic ember we need to keep burning. Go there with someone you love—or go there and find love.
Donna Drejza is the author of Palm Beach Busybodies, and Soul Mates and the 102.