Thanks to reality TV, today’s career cooks are expected to be entertainingly tyrannical and/or ultra-charismatic — obsessive-compulsive at the very least. And chefs don’t have to be celebrities to rule kitchens with a high-strung vibe, as almost anyone who’s ever worked in the service industry can confirm.
But Bruce Stewart might be the most easygoing restaurateur who ever whispered a grill. Asked if he prefers the title Chef/Owner or Executive Chef, he tells Bold Life, “Oh, it doesn’t really matter. I’ve been doing this since I was 13. I have nothing to prove.”
At press time, Stewart’s newest restaurant had no website or easily located social-media presence. He runs the just-opened eatery, The Kitchen, in downtown Brevard, and it’s tempting to provide a new industry acronym for him: MCP (Mellow Culinary Professional).
Three years ago, the former Charlotte resident established the meat-and-three lunch spot Lola’s Old Hickory House, also in Brevard. In so doing, he and his staff developed many popular side items, a lot of them vegetarian or vegan, that he says translated easily to The Kitchen’s format. Stewart’s latest venture is located in the vast Main Street locale where Jaime’s Creole Brasserie used to be, and unlike Lola’s, it’s a relatively late-night spot, open till 11pm on weekend nights.
Stewart notes that he’s always tailored his businesses with a reasonable price point and with menus that keep locals in mind. Appealing to the established community is important to him: “It’s about good, casual fare; simple fare — a very small menu done well and right,” he says. He adds in seasonal items, but in a casual way, with no visible preening.
On a recent Tuesday night, The Kitchen was reliably busy, its roaring wood-fired oven turning out pizzas such as the trendy “Margherita” with house tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil. These pies joined a list of salads such as the expertly textured “Chop-Chop” — artichokes, roasted red peppers, pepperoncini, olives, garbanzo beans, red onion, tomatoes, fresh basil, and mozzarella on a bed of romaine.
The pizzas and salads were placed on the menu where appetizers usually are, and this lack of actual “starters” was a little, well, startling. The restaurant’s square footage is enormous; and while part of the former Brasserie is now occupied by a gallery, the dining room is still as big as a mess hall, suggesting the need for a slightly larger menu to do the space justice.
The bigger the restaurant, the more chances for stress, it might seem. But from the bar that wraps the wide-open kitchen, Stewart’s interaction with his cooks and crew was visibly low-key. Everyone appeared to be genuinely cheerful, the vibe as optimistic as the enormous stockpile of firewood lined up against one chicly designed wall.
The hearty sandwiches, including a couple of burgers and other options featuring prime rib, shrimp, and grilled veggies, are a clear house specialty, and two entrées from the full suite of pasta dishes, though portioned at bistro size, were just plain delicious. “The Basilica” with pesto cream sauce, grilled chicken, and sun-dried tomatoes over penne, tasted spanking fresh, and the Bolognese was lighter than the classic version of the dish, making its mark with an excellently seasoned homemade meat sauce.
The Kitchen boasts a full bar with a list of craft cocktails; these include a tastily gorgeous Blackberry Collins made up of fresh berries, gin, lime, crushed ice, and mint. Dessert was embodied in two seasonal items, a pumpkin cheesecake and a top-shelf apple crisp. Served in a blazing-hot miniature skillet with vanilla ice cream, the latter item seemed to murmur that opening a restaurant in November is just what every MCP ought to do.
The Kitchen, 44 E. Main St., Brevard, open 11am-10pm Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and 11am-11pm Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday. For more information, call 828-885-8246.