This is part one of Gut Check's Chef's Choice profile of Rick Lewis of Quincy Street Bistro. Part two, a Q&A with Lewis, will be published Wednesday, and part three, a recipe from Lewis, will be available on Thursday.
When Rick Lewis took the helm of south city's Quincy Street Bistro (6931 Gravois Avenue; 314-353-1588) last year, he brought his barrel smoker with him.
"Even though it's a piece of junk," says the 29-year-old chef, "I love it."
The KitchenAid and Vita-Prep mixers in the restaurant's kitchen also belong to Lewis. They aren't pieces of junk. They are gifts from his wedding last September. And they are integral to his idea of what two-year-old Quincy Street Bistro can -- and should -- become.
When Lewis first arrived at the the restaurant, he explains, "They weren't set up for doing everything from scratch."
"The fact is," he continues, "you can do bar food and comfort food, and you can buy it out of a box all day long, but to do it the old-school way -- actually prepare everything, make your stocks for your gravies, the whole bit -- it brings a whole other kind of dynamic to it.
"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel here by any means. We want to give the people good, legitimate home-cooking like their grandmother would have made. It's just a little harder on the restaurant scale."
Lewis had practical reasons to bring his fancy wedding gifts into Quincy Street's kitchen, but there was also a kind of poetry to his decision. Not only is his wife, Elise, a manager and bartender at the restaurant, but her parents, Mike and Sue Enright, are its owners.
The Enrights opened Quincy Street in 2011. The lengthy original menu featured both comfort-food dishes (chicken-fried steak, pork chops) as well as bar-and-grill fare (hot wings, St. Louis-style pizza, a deep-fried hot dog).
"They wanted comfort food bar and grill from the get-go -- before I was ever in the picture," Lewis says. "I felt like they had a lot of that, but it wasn't focused."
Lewis cut the menu by half. Most of the dishes that made the cut he radically transformed.
"That was the one hurdle [the Enrights] were scared of: me cutting the menu in half," he says. He told them, "'I guarantee you're going to see a difference -- the people's enjoyment in coming here, the bills, everything -- when we change this.'
"We took the comfort-food section [of the original menu], and we took some of the other items, and we dialed them up a little bit to make them a little nicer, and we started doing everything from scratch."
The transition did hit a few bumps. Lewis laughs as he remembers the green-bean incident: "They were using frozen green beans. We started purchasing fresh green beans and cooking them. The first week of doing that, everybody said, 'These green beans are stringy and tough.'
"I like a little bit of a snap to them still. They weren't overcooked."
He sighs. "So we started intentionally overcooking our green beans a little bit and then -- " he pauses to offer a wicked smile " -- we gradually started to cook them the way they should be cooked."
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