Cafe Provence ended 2012 on a very sweet note. The white-tablecloth French cafe tucked in Prairie Village Shopping Center was named among America’s best restaurants by Zagat and OpenTable in November and December, respectively.
If you’ve never heard of Cafe Provence, owner Patrick Quillec isn’t surprised. He says the restaurant’s secluded location and tight-lipped regulars — who he says fear the 50-seat cafe will become too crowded — account for Cafe Provence’s low local profile.
“We get more mentions in other cities, like New York and San Francisco, than we do here in Kansas City,” Quillec says.
Cafe Provence has definitely earned the hype after 11 years in business. The restaurant has honed top-notch service, a respectable wine list and a cozy-romantic atmosphere you wouldn’t expect to find in a shopping center. But the piece de resistance is the cuisine, which blends classic French with progressive.
On the menu, you’ll find traditional onion soup, escargot and beef stew simmered with red wine. You’ll also find quiche, crepes, and lots of fresh, perfectly prepared seafood.
Seared salmon with black lentils and braised greens. Sausage made in-house with cod and cream and served in a heaping bowl of sauerkraut, mussels and shrimp. Sweet, tender scallops nestled against vibrant carrots and crisp green beans in a pool of mustard mushroom cream sauce.
Quillec, raised by a family of chefs in the Brittany region of France, worked in restaurants from Miami to Sonoma, Calif. before moving to Kansas City in 1997.
He says that when he arrived here in the landlocked Midwest, it was almost impossible to find fresh seafood. Today, it’s much easier: Quillec orders four or five small shipments a week from a supplier he shares with some of the top restaurants on the coasts. Those small shipments are partly out of necessity — Cafe Provence has a tiny kitchen and limited storage space so almost everything, from the stocks to the seafood sausage and brioche, has to be made from scratch every day.
Luckily, Quillec has lots of help in the kitchen. His older brother Daniel handles the classic French dishes, and son Philip experiments with new menu items. This is a true family restaurant: Patrick Quillec’s sister-in-law Daniele manages the restaurant; his wife, Joanne, is co-owner; daughter Natalie is sommelier, and the other five Quillec children step in as servers when they’re not busy with school or other jobs.
Patrick Quillec says he isn’t in the kitchen every day because he’s busy developing a line of vinaigrettes and dressings. But he still works with local farmers to get fresh ingredients for Cafe Provence and collaborates with his brother, son and chef de cuisine Dusty Remsing on the restaurant’s popular Tuesday night dinners. The four-course meals cost $38 per person and almost always pack the small space.
Quillec says he keeps the price relatively low to attract younger couples. Cafe Provence is already a hit with older diners who were raised on French cuisine — on a recent Wednesday afternoon the restaurant was mostly occupied by the ladies-who-lunch crowd.
But younger diners and anyone else who’s impressed by consistently extraordinary food, glowing online reviews, or prestigious rankings should probably take note: If Cafe Provence is one of Kansas City’s best-kept secrets, it won’t be for long.