Ever since I moved to Tallahassee in late 2000, Chez Pierre has been my favorite restaurant. It’s a little too pricey for me normally, but it’s always been the place I took visitors for special occasions, either for lunch or dinner.
I’ll never forget when I first called them in 2001. My sister was about to visit for the first time, and so I called and asked if they had a dress code. “Yes we do”, they said. “We require that you wear clothes.” I loved that…a restaurant with a sense of humor. I had just moved from South Florida, and I lived for some years in New Orleans, where mostly everyone understood that dress codes are the kiss of death. But hey, I was new to Tallahassee.
So you could go to Chez Pierre in your sequined finest, and rub elbows with people in jeans and Tshirts. The joy was in the food and the atmosphere.
As for atmosphere, Chez Pierre is in an old mansion at the corner of 6th Avenue and Thomasville Road. It has hardwood floors and and a veranda on two sides, which was used for outdoor dining. In front, there are two giant live oaks, complete with scads of Spanish moss. Under the oaks, chairs were grouped so that you could leave your dining area and have an after-dinner drink on the lawn.
And then, Chez Pierre was sold.
The first thing they did was enclose the entire veranda, with the exception of two or three tables next to the parking lot, with a plastic curtain. It looks for all the world like a shower curtain. It’s clear plastic, except for the top and the hem, both of which have a gold-colored band around them. When I say “gold”, I mean the color of kitchen appliances and bathroom tile from the 1950’s.
Inside that shower curtain, they put in a bar. On the veranda. Which used to have a view of the live oaks. Pretty much, you want to ask, What were they thinking? I’m guessing they were thinking that it would be okay to turn an iconic Tallahassee restuarant into a K-Mart version of the Hard Rock Cafe. Hard Rock: Been there, done that. Don’t want Chez Pierre to be it.
Nevertheless, the decor could have been excused if the food was as good, but…This past week, my boss was in town and we went there for lunch. I started with the lobster bisque. Now, lobster bisque has four essential ingredients: cream (and lots of it), tomato, sherry, and lobster. I can assure you that this lobster bisque never even glimpsed a tomato plant, much less a cow. It looked and tasted a lot like gravy. There were a few bits of a seafoodlike substance in it, which I suspect was fake crabmeat. It also tasted as if someone dumped an entire shaker full of salt into it.
Moving on to the entree, I ordered the chopped steak, cooked medium, substituting sweet potato fries for regular. The chopped steak arrived burned on the outside, and by burned, I mean burned. Black and hard and inedible, and on the inside…medium rare. With the regular French fries, not the sweet potato ones. I got those later. The waitress informed me that they had burned the original order of sweet potato fries, and in the interest of getting my order out, went ahead and gave me what I didn’t order. Okay then…thanks for thinking of me.
Finally, I ordered creme brulee for dessert. My boss, who didn’t want one, got one anyway. The waitress brought out two creme brulees, and I ask you…is it really possible to fuck up creme brulee? Amazingly, yes it is. Underneath the crusty, caramelized top, it was liquid. I started to ask for a straw. My boss restrained me.
I have great memories of Chez Pierre. The time my friends from Fort Lauderdale visited and we sat under the live oaks drinking Stingers after dinner. The time my sister and her husband visited and a huge limb from one of the oaks dropped off right in front of us as we dined on the veranda.
I will have no new memories of Chez Pierre, because I’ll never go back. Sad.