by Nancy Stiles
A few months ago Riverbend Restaurant & Bar (701 Utah Street; 314-664-8443) owner Sam Kogos lamented to us about his tiny, fourteen-by-fourteen kitchen and his off-the-beaten path location near Cherokee Street. "It's not an easy location to find. I'm not sitting in the Loop or the Central West End -- we're really thankful for the readership and the people who actually come in."
"I've been looking for a year and half -- I was looking all over the city, anywhere. I was basically trying to find a place that was two things: a high-traffic area, because I'm a total destination where I'm at, and the other thing is, I was trying to find someplace that had been a restaurant already. At my age, I didn't really want to get into some $500,000 buildout."
Kogos estimates he has looked at about 50 different places, and a big problem was price. He loved the spot in Lafayette Square that Tripel later took over, but a $12,000-a-month rent just wasn't feasible. "That's ridiculous. I said, 'You'll get somebody in here for a year, and they'll be out of business.' Sure enough, they got somebody in for a year, and then boom, closed. You can have good food, and the debt just kills you," he says.
Kogos and his chef, Steve Daney, who's also his cousin, both grew up in New Orleans, and he operated a restaurant there for fifteen years. Part of Riverbend's charm is its authenticity. Kogos says the Harvest space has a much larger kitchen, which will allow him to expand the menu and add a lot of items he just didn't have the capacity to cook on a daily basis.
For example, fried seafood is currently only available one day a week, because Riverbend has to pull out small, portable fryers. "You ought to be able to get fried seafood every day! I mean, that's ridiculous. I'll have red beans and rice every day instead of one day a week," he says. "Some of the specials I do every once in a while, like barbecued shrimp, seafood cannelloni, crab meat au gratin -- I can put those on the menu and serve them every day."
Riverbend will probably add a fresh fish option, thanks to the addition of a grill, which means char-broiled oysters, too, and more meat options and even a few vegetarian dishes. Kogos says most people aren't aware that the current kitchen doesn't even have any gas coming into it -- he's trying to serve 200 people on a Saturday night using induction cookers and an electric oven.
The renovation will be minimal. If anything, Kogos will dress it downt: paint, add TVs, fans, what he calls "punking it up a bit." Expect the new and improved Riverbend to open sometime in October; the plan is to close as normal on a Saturday night and then open the new spot the following Thursday.
"We love the place we're at, and the main reason for moving is the size of the kitchen and the ability to try to get the food that we want out and get it out in a timely fashion," Kogos says. "I know it's not in the city, but it's one exit past McCausland, so I'm not moving out to the Valley or anything."
Look out for extended hours, including Sunday service, and a late-night menu to cater to nearby Washington University students.
Gut Check is always hungry for tips and feedback. E-mail the author at Nancy.Stiles@RiverfrontTimes.com.
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