La Madeleine French Cafe Offers Lots of Flavor at Great Deals

By on April 13, 2012

Back in the 1960s a lot of top New York chefs became enamoured with the idea of using scientific technology to mass-produce gourmet meals for restaurant chains, thus offering the possibility of fine dining to the masses. Pierre Franey, according to Tracie McMillan in her new book “The American Way of Eating”, would sometimes thaw out his frozen factory-made concoctions and offer them to unsuspecting dinner guests to see if they’d realize what they were eating. I doubt that anyone was fooled. Nor will diners at La Madeleine be fooled into thinking they are dining at a world-class restaurant. Still, this Texas chain comes closer than any other to fulfilling Franey’s dream of providing haute cuisine quickly and cheaply.

La Madeleine was founded about 30 years ago in Dallas and now has 60 branches in Texas, Louisiana and other points south. Trying to research its history, I found this gem in Wikipedia. Wikipedia allows unlimited use of its material, and this, which reads as if written by the chain’s head of publicity, is too good not to. “La Madeleine Country French Café was created by French native Patrick Esquerré in the early 1980s to provide his guests the ability to ‘step into the French countryside – where the love of fresh food is celebrated, and everyday eating remains one of the simple pleasures of life.’ Patrick Leon Esquerré brought the tastes of the French countryside with him when he came to America. He grew up in the Loire Valley region of post-World War II France, where meal times revolved around homegrown, hand-prepared food, friends, family and heartfelt conversation. Patrick missed the joys of his hometown. He yearned for the aroma of fresh-baked baguettes and lingering over an espresso at the corner café. So, he decided to create his own. With little else besides his boundless enthusiasm and charming broken English, the self-described ‘French country boy’ began to bring his vision to life. Patrick found inspiration from his mother, Monique, who not only gave la Madeleine the secrets of her French cooking, but also the special atmosphere of French country living that she taught her son.”

That’s the dream, or at any rate the promo. When you’re here, you’re family. Let’s see how the real thing measures up.

The dining room’s not bad at all, and yes, there’s a French Provencal feel to it, though it will take a few decades of wear to mellow that brash, new fireplace and oak trim into authenticity. To order, you move to a counter just beyond this room. Bright and sleek, the ordering station follows the new design La Madeleine introduced in Northpark, Texas last year. You order from a long menu — almost nothing is over ten dollars — pay the cashier, and return to the dining room to await your food. It’s not cafeteria-style anymore. So that’s what we did. And then along came this.

Shrimp & Tilapia Provencal ($9). Shrimp, fish, onions, garlic and olives braised in white wine mixed with reduced fat tomato-basil soup, according to the menu. The sauce had a rich, olivey flavor and I rather liked it. Was it prepared from scratch in the kitchen? Or do big pouches of frozen sauce, or frozen entrees, arrive secretly and by night to the back door? I just don’t know. One Dallas magazine (“D”) says that in the new design locations, all items are made fresh, on-site. They use fast-cooking TurboChef ovens. But at any rate it was a great deal for nine dollars!

Cathe ordered a crepe and I got to have half of it.

Shrimp crepe florentine ($11). This is one of the very few things over $10 (another is the $11 whole roast chicken, a good deal too) and it’s worth the price. Lots of flavorful shrimp in a lovely pesto cream sauce. I’d bet this great sauce WAS prepared in-house. Next was Chicken La Madeleine ($9), with a mushroom sauce.

Betty ate this but she wasn’t thrilled by it. We also got a spinach salad with chicken ($8) which we didn’t order but did have to pay for. It was quite a good salad, with a sprightly vinaigrette dressing and good chunks of chicken. And then came dessert.

Dessert is served cafeteria-style. You walk back to the cashier and then select from this.

They keep the case locked because the food looks so good that they’re scared their own staff will grab one and start eating. And they do taste that good. We got the round tart at the far right of the middle, brightly lit row ($4.30). It was vaguely creme bruleeish but the creamy interior under the burnt-sugar top was studded with yummy fruit. It was so good we forgot to take a photo.

La Madeleine
1523 E 15 St.
Open from 6:30 AM to 10 PM every day
www.lamadeleine.com

Excerpt about Franey from McMillan book (worth reading!)
http://www.financialpost.com/todays-paper/dawn+industrial+dining/6231917/story.html

Brian Schwartz: Author

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society.  www.theomegasociety.com

I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.

“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

Brian Schwartz

About Brian Schwartz

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola. “A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

12 Comments

  1. Tennyson

    April 13, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    I tried this chain the first week it was open in Tulsa and had quite a different experience than you. Everything tasted processed – most especially the rubbery shrimp in the crepe (Likely rubbery b/c they had obviously been frozen and then microwaved.). I, too, ha dthe spinach salad, but did not eat it b/c the mushrooms had obviously not been washed. The Basil Pasta Salad had rubbery pasta and a fresh-out-of-the-jar flavour. I usually avoid chain restaurants in favour of locally owned (with the excpetion of a couple of places) and will not ever be going back to La Madeleine.

  2. adam

    April 13, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    That third picture really pales in comparison to the other two. I thought the dish had already been half-eaten when you took the photo.

    • Brian Schwartz

      April 14, 2012 at 11:56 am

      That gap should have been filled with rice. But I told them to plate the rice separately on the fish, and they goofed and plated it separately on the chicken.

  3. Carrisa

    April 13, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    I went there Tuesday night with a group of bloggers. We got to meet Patrick as well as Philip. I can vouch for the fact that they do not use microwaves and that all their ingredients are fresh. I found all of the dishes they fed us to be wonderful. And the desserts were spectacular. I’m quite excited to go back.

    • Brian Schwartz

      April 14, 2012 at 11:58 am

      I guess they didn’t invite me because they thought I’d give them a bad review. Which was foolish of them since I reviewed it anyway. And it’s not a bad review.

      • Brian Schwartz

        April 22, 2012 at 9:39 am

        An executive from La Madeleine’s head office just wrote to me to inform me that they DID indeed invite me to this event. They sent the invitation to me in care of Brian McCullough…..

        • Brian Schwartz

          April 22, 2012 at 10:12 am

          And, as it happens, they sent it to the wrong address and Brian McCullough never got it. Still, in their honor since they come from Dallas, let me play my favorite song about Dallas. It’s an old song. It’s been covered by a lot of bands, including the Grateful Dead. I’ve traced it back to an obscure blues singer who recorded it around 1961 but I think it could be 30 years older. The Dallas neighborhood called Deep Ellem (often spelled Ellum) was a rough part of town in the 1930s but it had a vibrant musical scene because it was the only integrated neighborhood in Dallas. Ma Rainey and Leadbelly were regulars at the bars there. This is Red Dirt Rangers’ version of Deep Ellem Blues.

          http://www.myspace.com/0/music-player?songid=47226202

          • Staff

            April 24, 2012 at 8:06 am

            Found the message later in SPAM! I hate SPAM!!!!

            Great review Brain!

  4. Jenny

    April 14, 2012 at 11:57 am

    I wouldn’t call it authentic or fresh by any means. I had the chicken friand and honestly I’d rather invest in the ingredients and make it myself at home. The puff pastry was undercooked and I struggled to locate the chicken. I would say it is just a step up from Panera.

  5. Laura

    April 15, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    Ate there twice so far. Loved it. Listen, you’re in the middle of Oklahoma and nearly everything is very low priced and served quickly at this place. Soooo, keeping all of that in mind, it was a great bargain. The chicken salad had good flavoring and the tomato basil soup was creamy and left me wanting more. To the earlier comment that it was ” just a step up from Panera”, well then I say well done! Panera is a great, healthy place to eat and so is La Madeleine. I’ll definitely be returning.

  6. Penny

    April 26, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    This is “corporate” La Madeline. Original owner sold out and it’s not quite the same. The interior is nothing like the ones in Dallas and that’s too bad, as they are individually charming. I have only had the French breakfast, which was OK, but the coffee was outstanding and service was good.

  7. kole hector

    April 30, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    do they sell macarons

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