a conversation with scott kuhn (washington place bistro & bar and the spillway)

We’re all thinking it. A non-Italian restaurant in Little Italy?

Little Italy. Home of The Feast, cannoli’s and one Italian restaurant after another. Until mid November that is, when Washington Place Bistro & Inn will take over the space that once house the beloved Baricelli Inn.

Well, I’ve been thinking it at least and that’s exactly what I asked Scott Kuhn when we sat down for (a wonderful and flavorful) dinner at Dante earlier this week. Kuhn is the proprietor of 87 West at Crocker Park, The Welschfield Inn, The Allegheny Grille in PA and now Washington Place.

“I’m not Italian, so I don’t want to open something or do something that I’m not,” explains Kuhn. Though Kuhn, a culinary graduate, did share that he spent a month in Tuscany making pasta and toying with the idea before ultimately deciding it wouldn’t be right.

In high school, Kuhn was a competitive athlete (we actually attended the same school). But in college, a serious accident left him with a broken back and left this former athlete barely able to walk. During his near two-year road to recovery, he realized that he wanted to spend his life doing something he loved – and he always had a serious love for food.

So he decided not to go back to The University of Alabama and instead pursued the culinary program at The University of Akron then a business degree from Malone. Upon graduation, he bought his first restaurant, The Allegheny Grille, surrounded by canoes, kayaks and 200+ motorcycles on any given Sunday. A restaurant he still owns today. A small stake in Gamekeeper’s Tavern and 87 West in Chagrin Falls followed (he is no longer involved in these places).

“I don’t know that there’s a person out there that loves what they do more than me,” says Kuhn.

Kuhn acknowledges that his other restaurants aren’t in iconic locations or not necessarily coveted by foodies, of which he says still only make up a small percentage of people dining out.

“I know when this (Washington Bistro) opens, it’s going to be different,” he says. “There’s going to be this unspoken pressure. I think variety is good and that people will really like this place – foodies will like this place.” Kuhn, a foodie himself, claims that his newest venture cwill go toe to toe with places like Dante. And when Paul Minnillo came to him about buying Baricelli, he knew this was his opportunity to open his dream restaurant.

Helping him appease those foodies will be chef Jonathon Guest, who runs his kitchen at Crocker Park. And as Kuhn says, is not being used to his fullest potential. The menu, which will be priced at $14 – $26 for dinner (they will also be open for lunch and Sunday brunch) features a lot of grown-up American classics. Here’s a sampling of the menu (starters and entrees):

  • roasted tomato soup – roasted tomato/ garlic/ grilled cheese crouton/ EVOO 6
  • roasted cauliflower bisque / double cream/ Maytag blue/ balsamic gastrique 6
  • Washington Place salad – fried green tomato / lump crab/ avocado/ chefs garden greens 11
  • roasted beet salad – Mackenzie Creamery goat cheese/ marcona almonds/ vinaigrette 11
  • field greens salad / chefs garden greens / dried cherries/ sunflower seeds / vinaigrette 12
  • crispy calamari – garlic/ cilantro/ fresno peppers/ chili vinegar dipping sauce 10
  • bacon and eggs – fresh bacon/ deep fried egg/ potato hash 9
  • shrimp and grits- low country/ scampi/ barbecue drizzle/ leek 12
  • oxtail pierogies- braised oxtail/ fennel/ shallot/ chives/ big red reduction 12
  • fresh fries- house cut/ salt & pepper/ chives/ malt vinegar aioli 7
  • dayboat scallops – butternut squash risotto/ beurre blanc/ micro greens 22
  • seared salmon – cauliflower gratin/ oyster mushrooms/ micro greens 18
  • pasta – braised oxtail/ oyster mushrooms/ shallots/ carrot/ grated parmesan 14/19
  • mack n cheese – Mackenzie Creamery/ manchengo/ parmesan / chorizo/ strudel 14/19
  • braised pot roast-chefs garden root vegetables/ garlic mashers/ big red reduction 18
  • veal meatloaf-oyster mushrooms/ white cheddar mashers/ roasted tomato gravy 17
  • pork rib chop-white cheddar and scallion spoonbread/ braised spinach/ apple cider demi 23
  • roasted vegetable napoleon – eggplant/ tomato/ yellow squash/ red onion / balsamic 16
  • chicken thigh confit- spoonbread/ braised spinach/ pan gravy/ micro greens 16
  • Washington burger- white cheddar/ grilled red onion/ roasted garlic aioli/ fresh fries 11
  • hanger steak- balsamic red onions/ seared mushrooms/ fresh fries/ blue cheese butter sauce 18
  • 14 oz. Delmonico – Maytag mashers/ asparagus/ oscar 26/29

The menu will also feature Baricelli cheeses plus other local items, from meat to produce when possible.

As for the décor and space itself, Kuhn is conscientious of the stigma that followed his predecessor and wants to get as far away from that as possible. He put a lot of money and time into getting the space right, which will still feature seven fully redone guest rooms ($149 – $169 a night). He says it will be warm and inviting and formal enough for a special night out, but casual and relaxing to accommodate nearby students and the after work crowd.

So what’s in a name? Scott Kuhn’s grandpa died in 1992 and they were incredibly close. Kuhn shared that as he gets older, it’s harder and harder to picture him – except when he makes his grandfather’s potato salad. Then he can clearly see him. His grandpa loved this country and US history. So when he was thinking about this concept, Washington kept popping up and he knew his grandpa would appreciate it.

Look for Washington Place to open in mid November.

What’s Next

With the doors of his Little Italy venture not quite ready to open; Kuhn is already thinking of his next project: a mix use office/retail/restaurant/micro brewery in Chagrin Falls that will sit on a former paper mill that has been vacant for roughly 25 years (Kuhn will own the restaurant). This project is called The Spillway. Aside from Kuhn, Tim Conway, a former Falls resident, will also play a role. According to Kuhn, this area houses the most breathtaking view in town – there’s nothing like it in Cleveland he adds. You can partially see the waterfalls it will overlook if you drive up Mill Rd past the Chagrin Falls library.

He says the concept for the restaurant will be an upscale sports bar and very family centric with a giant outdoor kitchen. Kuhn says he likes to fill niches where he feels there’s vacancy and believes there’s a need for a fun place with lots of energy in Chagrin Falls.

The Spillway, which will be a certified LEED project (so it’s plenty green), is still a good 12 – 18 months away. And if you have driven by the area, I think it’s probably safe to add a few months to that.

7 Comments

  1. Posted October 4, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    You are a hard workin’ sob.
    Best of luck with Washington Place.
    That Spillway project sounds like a home run!

    Darren

  2. Paul
    Posted October 4, 2010 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    Any word on Flour and when it’s opening? Menu?

  3. Julia
    Posted October 5, 2010 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    What fun! I can’t wait for Spillway to open! It sounds fantastic.

  4. Michelle V
    Posted October 5, 2010 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    @Paul – I’ve heard December but also late winter; no word on menu (at least that I’ve seen). I drove by the other day, saw the sign up.

  5. Posted October 6, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Omg, the Washington place salad and Mack and cheese look DIVINE!!!

  6. Chris Di Lisi
    Posted October 9, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to wish Scott and Washington Place good luck. Menu sounds good, I am sure you will do a great job.

    Flour is looking at a January opening. Paul and I are going a little stir crazy but can’t wait to get back into the kitchen.

    Thanks

  7. paul minnillo
    Posted October 21, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Good Luck Scott–happy there will be food other than Italian in Little Italy—only knowing Scott for a few months I see how passionate and driven he is–I know he will be successful

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