Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Cory Hess’s Arcadian: A Neighborhood Restaurant

For the past two years, Chef Cory Hess has been working out the details for Gordon Square Art District’s latest dining destination, Arcadian Food & Drink, located at 6416 Detroit Avenue. “The name works for me on many levels. Arcadia is a word from Greek Mythology meaning ‘utopia.’ Arcadian is in close proximity to the Gordon Square Arcade, and we will have some arcade games along the wall on the first floor.” An updated pizza parlor, Arcadian is Hess’s “version of paradise through a modernized 90s corner pizza joint. It’s the type of place that encourages sharing and conversing, where quality food is served with a smile in a welcoming, communal environment.” To that end, a large communal table is a focal point on the street level. Several times throughout our afternoon together, Hess mentioned the importance of creating a restaurant where those who live in the area can afford to patronize it several times a week if they like; a neighborhood place. He had no interest in creating a place for the exclusive use of suburbanites. “I want it to be a friendly place – the kind of place I would like to hang out at after work,” Hess said. The more he explained his vision, the more I was struck by the notion that the restaurant business is a young person’s profession.

Cory Hess, with the boarded up Arcadian in the background
With the help of Robert Maschke Architects and the financial backing of a silent partner (trust me, silent as the grave on this point), Hess is transforming the old City Grill into a spectacular location: a three-story structure with large floor to ceiling windows making up most of the exterior facade. Hess describes Maschke’s aesthetic as being heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, and his work as “meticulous in detail and timeless in his designs.” Perhaps the greatest transformation will be the conversion from dark to light. In addition to the predominance of glass in the front of the building, natural light will filter through a two-story glass enclosed foyer with a green wall in the center of the room that will be exposed to the elements. Hess is quick to add they intend to have a Christmas Tree on display during the Christmas season. He also went on to explain, “the first year, the work mainly centered around clearing the space of old equipment. Layers were stripped away. Then, we began the process of making the space structurally sound for the build-out and new design. We’re hoping for an October open.” Unfortunately, the day I was there, work came to a complete halt due to the intense afternoon heat inside. There’s no air conditioning yet and little light or ventilation inside the boarded-up structure.

Cory Hess, Interior, Arcadian - street level
The plan for the first level is to have a lively pub atmosphere. People walking past on the sidewalk will have a full view of the pizza ovens and most of the lower level. The bar will seat 20 to 25, with seating for 15 or 20 more on couches in the lounge area and 12 to 16 more at the communal table. The second-level dining room will accommodate between 30 and 35 diners. It will be the perfect sanctuary for those looking for a more private dining experience. The lowest level will mainly be used as a prep room, and will include freezers, a walk-in cooler, employee area and an office.

The past two years have also provided Hess with the time to develop his menu, his business philosophy and an overall plan to bring it to fruition.
His menu is divided into three columns and begins with “Seafood” – a selection of raw oysters and chilled fish, including shrimp and smoked Buffalo fish, oysters and mussels. Offering oysters is a way for Hess to reinforce the inexpensive choices on his menu. He adds, “historically, oysters have been an affordable seafood option but they also reinforce the shared dining experience. You tend to share an order of oysters with your friends at a bar or table.” This communal theme is repeated throughout the menu. “Shared Bar Snacks” include vegan and vegetarian options. “We’ll have a separate fryer exclusively dedicated to vegan menu offerings,” says Hess. They will also take every step to ensure there is no cross contamination.

Nothing says, “shared dining experience” like pizza. It’s no coincidence that the center column of the menu showcases seven pizzas with three categories of toppings. Hess describes the pizza as “square ‘Detroit Style’ pies that will be cooked in Ohio-made Bolling Pizza Ovens.” The “Fish Bait” pizza immediately caught my eye. It includes white anchovies, capers, goat cheese, olive oil, parsley, roasted garlic and leek. An intriguing option for Tex-Mex lovers is the “Nacho Libre,” with chorizo, jalapeno, smoked cheddar, red onion, sour cream, cilantro and smoked tomato. And I know there will be times when nothing but the “Wake & Bake” will do – a pie with hickory smoked bacon, local eggs, potatoes, pepper and provolone. Hopefully, we’ll get an opportunity to sample them all in the near future.

The third column on the menu focuses on “Plates.” First, there are two appetizers: “Hummus” and “Dinosaur Wings” (turkey), along with a couple of salads. “Trays” include some curiously funny offerings: the “Knuckle Sandwich” with beef knuckle and “Steak-um,” a vegan offering made with seitan subbing for steak. And finally, “Desserts,” include house-made pies, lemon ice and he hopes to source a cookie dough ice cream sandwich (consisting of two layers of cookie dough with ice cream center) from Mason’s Creamery.

Arcadian's Menu, a work in progress

Hess plans to add brunch service soon after the open and is also debating whether or not Sunday supper may not be a good idea and in keeping with his communal dining theme. A theme that will be reiterated at Arcadian’s bar as well, with carafes of punch, Bloody Mary, wine, pitchers of beer, etc., all in an effort to emphasize the experience of sharing food with friends. Come to think of it, aren’t food and friends the basis for most fond memories?

What is most impressive about Hess is his extensive résumé. He has worked at some of the best restaurants in northeast Ohio and in Columbus, and has more culinary training and education than his age would suggest. Those experiences have greatly influenced his menu and his philosophies as a chef. He began his career at Don’s Pomeroy House in Strongsville. Later, he was Prep Cook/Line Cook at Blue Point Grille (where he learned to shuck oysters – lots and lots of oysters) and Line Cook at Handke’s Cuisine, where he learned so many of the basics and fundamentals, including that there’s more to life than trying to run a perfect kitchen. More recently, he was Sous Chef at Lola on East Fourth Street, Executive Chef at Bistro at Lincoln Park and Line Cook/Kitchen Manager at Bar Symon, where he met Rebecca Traxler, his significant other/soon to be fiancé. Traxler grew up on a blueberry farm and is currently Sous Chef at Urban Farmer, the new steak house in The Westin, Downtown. Previously, she worked at Spice Kitchen & Bar. Together, they’re active participants in the local farm-to-table scene and are involved in Kentucky Gardens a community garden next to Fairview Park in Ohio City.

Hess’s education includes a year at the prestigious Johnson and Wales University, a Culinary Arts/Chef Training Certificate from Polaris Career Center and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Hospitality Administration/Management from Kent State University.

“You can be the best chef in the world, but until you understand the numbers and can make it work as a business, you can’t get anywhere.” Hess also said the only way to make it in this business is to rely on others. He has been overwhelmed by the amount of people who have picked up the phone to offer their congratulations and assistance. Hess believes in the Buddhist teaching that says, “no one goes anywhere on their own.” Incorporating this in his business plan he has thought long and hard about how to get his workers to realize their dreams while he achieves his. He prefers to measure success by the number of people he can help.

It is no wonder then there is someone willing to invest so heavily in this impressive young talent. For me, this year, Fall cannot come soon enough.

Maschke Architects, Exterior Plan - Arcadian Food & Drink

Photos of Chef Cory Hess taken by Dale Dong

No comments:

Post a Comment