The Powell gastropub (one that's true to the definition, placing equal emphasis on food and a smart, mostly local beer list) doesn't belittle its suburban diners by dumbing down cuisine or assuming they're not hip enough to keep up with dining trends.
For too long there's been a proverbial line drawn in the culinary sand between the city and suburbs. High-concept, chef-driven restaurants open Downtown, while chain eateries pop up in between suburban housing developments, feeding the misconception that suburbanites want only big-box food. On more than one occasion last year, we heard ho-hum restaurants referred to as "good enough for the 'burbs."
This attitude is exactly why we love newcomer Kraft House No. 5 from longtime restaurateurs Louie and Michael Pappas. The Powell gastropub (one that's true to the definition, placing equal emphasis on food and a smart, mostly local beer list) doesn't belittle its suburban diners by dumbing down cuisine or assuming they're not hip enough to keep up with dining trends. Chef Marcus Meacham doesn't apologize either-not for the f-bombs he throws out for emphasis or for the "greedy" way he approaches the menu.
"I want to make food I f---ing like," he laughs. That includes bold flavors in gussied-up bar fare like smoked lobster rolls and a pork on pork sandwich spiked with fried pig ears.
Ask Meacham to define his cooking style, and he'll laughingly reply, "Wu-Tang." One look at the former Bodega chef who rocks denim and work boots and a hip-hop T under his chef's work shirt, and the answer seems fitting. It makes sense in context.
But walk away and, a few minutes later, the real questions sink in: What the heck does a '90s hip-hop group have to do with cooking?
"When I say 'Wu-Tang,' it's witty, unpredictable, talented and game. That's Wu-Tang," Meacham says, stopping to chuckle as if recalling an inside joke. "My job is to almost confuse people when they eat. But at the end, they're coming back around to something that they can relate to."
That's why, at first glance, the dishes at Kraft House seem familiar: mac and cheese, wings and fries. But the flavors are anything but mundane. Take the burgers. Each one is ground in house with a blend of beef cheek and chuck. Then Meacham adds extra fat into the grinder-an "insane" thing to do, he says-to keep the burger from shrinking and giving each bite an almost springy texture.
Where else can we see Wu-Tang on the menu? Meacham shares a few more ways you can taste his style. krafthouse5.com
"The brittle that's on top of my pork chop, I incorporate a flavor that almost everyone has had-Werther's Original. You know, those little candies. I bust those apart, melt them down and make my brittle. Then I grind it up and sprinkle it on top after a layer of maple syrup. I torch it a little bit and encase the entire thing. That caramel taste, that's like going into your grandma's house and reaching into that bowl of candy."
Shrimp and Grits
"I put a little charred orange zest in my hands, ball it up with microgreens and then sprinkle it over the main shrimp. It's the shrimp everyone goes to first. Once they hit that, they get the orange. It hits the top of the grits; it hits the sauce. It cuts through, spreads out over the rest of the dish."
Mussels and Fries
"It's something I've tried to stop doing, but I love it so much. The way the cream itself is made by that little bit of liquid that comes when the mussels open up-that blends into the cream, and the way it's reduced turns into a velvety smooth sauce. That's topped with the best bacon the world, Benton's bacon. The fries are the only ally of the dish; everything else is attacking your palate. I top it with Moody Blue, a smoked blue cheese. That takes the dish through the stratosphere."