Chez Genese, pronounced “shay zheh ness,” means “place of new beginnings.” A script logo next to the door states that theme, extended on the website: “We believe food brings people together.”
This restaurant provides more than just food. It provides a means to a more productive, independent life for a select population. With only a few exceptions, according to the website, the staff members here share developmental or intellectual disabilities.
A hand printed procedures list hangs on the back of the kitchen door. (I could see it while I waited for takeout.) I wish every restaurant had such a clearly articulated system. The induction process here is highly effective, resulting in prompt deliveries and accurate checks, which are all inclusive- no tipping.
As might be inferred from the name, Chez Genese is a French café, or to be more precise, French-inspired. The food is casual, inexpensive to moderate in price.
I admire the concept. I love the food. Chez Genese has a uniquely welcoming ambience, genuine, rather than practiced.
The menu has been modified to accommodate takeout requirements. The Brunch/lunch menu is offered morning to mid-day on weekends, family dinners in early evening on weeknights. Many of the offerings have been gleaned from the menu that was in effect before quarantine, when I made my in person, full service visits.
The items I tried on my initial visits came from the lunch menu.
I found salads flavorful and nutritious, not overly filling, just right for mid-day meals. Roasted Beet Salad is bright and colorful, Bibb lettuce and spinach scattered with goat cheese, green apple slices, and fresh fennel, deep red beet slices on top, all drizzled with honey dressing. Asparagus Salad places two slices of brie, decorated with toasted almonds, over al dente asparagus in mixed lettuces, dressed in shallot vinaigrette. In addition to the flavor of asparagus, the brie and almond tastes marry especially well.
In Tuna Nicoise Salade, white tuna is presented over fresh, crisp green beans, along with boiled egg and small potatoes. Lemon vinaigrette imparts bright, light flavor. Salade Lyonnaise is based on frisee lettuce, radish slices, bacon, and poached egg, with warm lemon vinaigrette dressing.
Soups are similarly suitable. Leek and Potato takes advantage of the mild, oniony flavor of leeks, blending with natural potato taste without overpowering, while allowing creamy flavor to emerge. A crisp toasted baguette slice is perched on top. Bouillabaisse is a classic French seafood stew, in this case combining mussels, clams, and white fish in fish stock.
I would repeat any of the sandwiches I tried. But the Roasted Chicken on Rosemary Biscuit turned out to be a clear favorite. A large, homemade biscuit, flavored with the named herb, hosts tender pulled chicken with warm goat cheese. Smoked Salmon is served open-faced, slices of salmon over avocado and goat cheese spread, cucumber slices alongside. (The serving pictured is a half portion.)
Pan Bagnat is a sliced chicken white meat sandwich, served on a crusty baguette, spread with olive tapenade and herbed goat cheese, plus lettuce and tomato. Spicy-hot pepperoncini lend bite. Jambon Beurre inserts sliced ham into a toasted, buttered baguette- nice and crisp.
Fig and Onion Galette represents another favorite gleaned from these visits. The flavors of fig, caramelized onions, and ricotta cheese blend beautifully, emerging from a lovely, folded crust.
Before dining-in was discontinued, the restaurant had initiated a first Friday dinner. It was the perfect way to begin an evening, followed by The Wailin’ Jennys at the Carolina Theater. The three courses began with a house salad of leaf lettuces, cucumbers, and sliced grape tomatoes. The main course was Jambalaya. Critics might claim that this is not French, but it is, albeit Louisiana French. The primary flavor came from chicken, moderately spicy, enhanced with clipped green onions, over rice. Two crusty, flavorful Beignets, dusted with abundant powdered sugar, concluded the meal.
The family dinners offered for takeout follow a structure similar to what I enjoyed on that first Friday. This week’s features are Mediterranean Cod with Greek salad, pita bread, and sorbet on Wednesday (8/5); Meatloaf with garlic smashed potatoes, spring peas, and a cookie on Thursday (8/6); and Pasta Pissaladiere with side salad and garlic baguette on Friday (8/7).
Kathryn Hubert is owner and floor manager. She has lived in France and took courses in culinary arts before moving to Greensboro and adding hospitality management to her studies. She has family members with autism, and she was involved in community initiatives in special education. Combining those interests led to the creation of the restaurant. Susan Bain is service manager and event coordinator. Her previous career was in education.
These are challenging times for all of us, especially small businesses, restaurants in particular. As we have learned, life can deal handicaps in different forms to any- or all- of us, with little or no advance notice. Chez Genese was already serving Greensboro in a special way. This concept is even more welcome now. Here, and for all restaurants, check the restaurant website and/or Facebook page to keep up with the menu on the day you order.
Chez Genese | 616 S. Elm St., Greensboro | (336)663-7399
Takeout Hours: 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 5-6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday
Family Dinners: $15-$72, for portion sizes of 1-6 persons, Pastries and Panty Items: $3-$10
Weekend French Picnic Baskets: $45-$125, depending on size. Desserts: $2.50-$3