Here is a restaurant with a chef’s presence. It’s felt from the beginning, when diners are told about the Chef’s Specials, like the tilapia with mango topping.
It’s felt when the table next to yours oohs & ah’s over the chef’s special dessert, a beautiful flambÃ© called the Princess Diana made as a tribute to her favorite breakfast. It has a croissant, melted cream cheese, sour cream, strawberries, and is drizzled with chocolate and hand delivered by the chef himself. (Hint: order it ahead of timeâ€”this is a limited quantity dessert).
It’s felt when studying the menu with its mentions of signature dishes and the word â€˜famousâ€™ sprinkled throughout. And, it’s felt with a request to meet with the chef, when he comes out in true chef’s form, ready to greet a guest, correct a problem, or offer a sample.
Turns out the chef’s presence is what makes this restaurant different, and the real Chez Robert (â€˜It’s not Robertâ€™) Baker has put his heart, soul and personal finances into making this a going propositionâ€”turning down an offer to be a chef for Google in the process. â€˜They said not many people turn them down,â€™ he recalls ruefully. â€˜A half million dollars in expenses later, here I am!â€™
That said, the menu at Chez Robert offers something different. So does the location. It’s in Nixa, Missouri, tucked away off the main highway in an old house. The reality is that the location is part of the charm. It operates as Malinda’s Tea Room during the day (named after his daughter), serving sandwiches, wraps, salads and soups.
It’s not really a split personalityâ€”the two concepts work well together, offering private tea parties as well as the traditionally manly Dagwood sandwich. â€˜A lot of women order the Dagwood,â€™ says Chef Robert. â€˜I put it on the menu for guys, and nine out of ten of them will take half home. Nine out of ten women will eat the whole thing and still have dessert. When women go out to eat, they are serious about their food!â€™
It’s a clientele that works for this chef, who holds a pastry arts degree and trained at the Walton Institute and at Rich’s School of Baking (now owned by Sara Lee). The atmosphere is all trailing ivy and soft lighting, with plastic covered cloth tablecloths and a small gift shop. Love songs of the 80s and early 90s are played over a speaker system, and the wait staff does well scurrying between the various rooms of the old house.
The appetizer confirmed our feeling that the delivery is what would make the menu different. There were only two from which to choose, Swedish meatballs or Spinach and Artichoke Dip ($8.99). Although there was no hype on the menu, the dip was worthy of a â€˜famousâ€™ designation. It came served with toasted bread rounds, and was a thick, hot dip with the taste of homemade, rather than something churned out by the vat.
As for dinner itself, our waiter recommended the Pepperoni Chicken Carbonara (available in half order for $12.99 or full for $18.99)â€”probably the dish we’ll go back for. This time it was hard to resist the Chef’s Special, a filet mignon seasoned with a variety of spices and served with shrimp ($15.99), and the intriguing â€˜signature brown sugar based pineapple sauceâ€™ used in the Charbroiled Hawaiian Chicken ($16.99).
Of the two, the chicken was the winnerâ€”the sauce met expectations with a nice glaze and lots of flavor, with the plus up of a side cup of extra sauce for dipping. Side dishes for both were crisply sautÃ©ed vegetables and French potatoes, described as â€˜similar to a twice baked potato with sour cream and cheese,â€™ but more like julienned potatoes with a little more herb seasoning.
The salads that came with the entrees were fresh with arugula, grape tomatoes, and red onion ribboned throughout. The dressings are worth mentioning, particularly the House Burgundy Poppy Seed, made with a merlot reduction, and the Champagne Celery Seed, made with a Chardonnay reduction.
We also tasted the Chef’s chicken salad, with chicken, mayonnaise, pickle relish, onions, grapes, finely chopped pecans and a secret ingredient or two that he claims is what gives it its competition-winning flavor, and helps him sell 25-30 pounds of it each day.
Don’t go away without dessertâ€”he is, after all, a pastry chef. We had the Strawberry Ambrosia, which is two types of flavored pound cake (strawberry and peach) soaked with sauce, topped with thinly sliced fresh berries, and mounded with whipped cream.
Google doesn’t know what it missed.