Just inside the door of Chez Dré, a quippy poster reminds you that “stressed” is “desserts” spelled backwards. Details like this are indicative of the homey, if a bit goofy, charm of this cozy bakery and café in Eldorado’s Agora Shopping Center, which is helmed by Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef Andrea Clover.
Clover seems to be shooting for the ambience of an informal French café, and to a certain extent, she succeeds. Toward the front of the space, a display case is stocked with eye-catching pastries and confections (Clover won multiple awards for her desserts while working as pastry chef at Luminaria). The rest of the décor is sunny and eclectic, like the living room of your colorful, kooky aunt — bright-yellow walls, a few mismatched chairs, a gas-fired faux fireplace built into one wall, and preprinted canvases depicting full cartoonish wine glasses and Parisian skylines.
That display case is also stocked with premade breakfast burritos, sandwiches, mini quiches, and individual-serving pot pies. In fact, Chez Dré offers a rather extensive menu that covers traditional breakfast (oatmeal, omelets, waffles), lunch, and early dinner (soups, salads, sandwiches, and heartier entrées, from fish tacos to chicken fricassee to steak).
Clover’s croissant is a fine specimen, with well- defined layers and a dizzying but not overwhelming butteriness. We made quite a mess destroying a sweet, fruity, amazingly flaky apple turnover with pretty scalloped edges. But I wished the pain au chocolat had more of the signature ingredient inside and less in the syrupy drizzle across the top. Our breakfast burrito, pulled from the case and warmed, was stocked with a solidly savory blend of potato, egg, tangy cheese, and hearty green chile turkey sausage. The huevos rancheros impressed me with tender tortillas, gorgeous golden egg yolks, a light cheese layer, and piquant but not overly spicy red and green chile sauces (the latter is more a purée than is typical, but no matter). The black beans served on the side, with onion and red pepper noticeable in the mix, were so full-flavored I was incapable of neglecting them.
Although the French dip begins with a premade sandwich retrieved from the refrigerated case, it’s heated to a toasty, crunchy golden and served with a salty, rich, cocoa-brown jus for dipping. My dining companion, who left barely a crumb on his plate, pronounced it one of the best things he’s had dining out in Santa Fe recently.
Chez Dré attempts to liven up evenings by offering happyhour specials that include beers, wines, cocktails, and assorted small plates. These range from dips and cheeses to crab hushpuppies and juicy beef sliders that arrive hot from the griddle on tall, pillowy quarters of a regulationsize bun. The goat cheese tartlets were a bit of a mess — the thick, pasty-soft crusts were falling apart — and the filling was spare and bland. Luckily, they were served atop a pretty salad of mixed greens, Marcona almonds, dried cranberries, more goat cheese, and tomato.
The mahi tacos are skippable — oddly seasoned, short on slaw, and doused in a chipotle aioli that was peculiarly sweet and not at all spicy. But you’ll need a hearty appetite for the chicken fricassee — two sizable pieces of roasted chicken with moist, tender meat (in our case, a thigh and a drumstick); a heap of vegetable- studded rice pilaf; and a slathering of vibrant but creamy white-wine sauce. It looks and tastes like a dish a French grandmother would serve.
Fruity and icy, the blended-to-order frozen strawberry-basil “margarita” will be the perfect cocktail-hour refreshment in a couple of months, when summer’s heat has returned and the sun’s out in full force. The menu lists tequila as an ingredient, but it’s actually a wine-based facsimile, as are the other spirits — vodka, rum, and whiskey — used here. That’s a bit of a disappointment, especially if you’re in the mood for something with a little more punch. But I won’t complain, because when it comes to the food at Chez Dré — particularly dishes with classic but unfussy French inspiration — there’s nothing phony about it.
The huevos rancheros impressed me with tender tortillas, gorgeous golden egg yolks, a light cheese layer, and piquant but not overly spicy red and green chile sauces.