For weeks, the Facebook questions have crawled up Angry Bear Kitchen’s feed:
“Are you open yet?’
“When are you opening?”
“Are you open now?”
Finally, on Friday, May 2, the Olde North welcomed its newest neighbor to its slice of High Street. Taking advantage of the culinary karma left behind when former occupant Sage closed its doors, Angry Bear Kitchen is bringing daring dishes back to the land of pizza and PBR.
Now their feed has gone from anxious and anticipatory, to satiated and celebratory:
“What a wonderful experience we had last night at this new restaurant!”
“I LOVE these folks.”
“This is the best place in all the land. Last night rocked our taste buds!!!”
The space, with its brick walls and big windows looking out onto the energy of the busy corridor, hasn’t changed too much, with the exception of the newly blown-out kitchen. Open to the room, three guys shuffle and sauté their way through service. Tyler Minnis, Jarod Norris, and Daniel Scalzo not only create the dishes, but also are the masters of this universe.
The three have been in and out of kitchens, be it at their mother’s side or at the dish tank, since each could chop an onion. Fate landed them all on the line at Latitude 41 – which is where they got the “Angry Bears” nickname for their collective, um, passion during busy times – and brought them together this Saturday afternoon, prepping for dinner in their new restaurant.
“We’d have late-night conversations over beers where we’d talk about our ideas and then we just kept in touch,” said Norris. “The day we signed the papers for this space, we were in a coffeehouse downtown and just went outside and screamed, ‘I mean, THIS IS REAL!’”
Having their own place means going through the agony and eventual triumph of construction, minding all the business-y stuff as well as honing a vision and culinary voice.
But the kitchen’s the heart of a restaurant, and it’s where the hearts of the three beat strongest. “We put our heart and soul into cooking,” said Norris. “There’s an immediate rush to see people enjoy what you’ve created. It’s like a team sport back here – we have each other’s backs.”
After a bit of a stutter on the first night – there was only one spoon in the kitchen – the friends found their groove on the second night and have been pushing out orders of lemon ricotta gnocchi and sunchoke carpaccio with gusto.
“That first night, we wished we had a wall in the kitchen,” laughed Scalzo.
Leaning toward the nose-to-tail philosophy, the Angry Bears try to present foods that might provoke skepticism in a playful, familiar manner.
“We’d like to enlighten the food scene with different dishes – like beef tongue and sweetbreads – but make them safe to try,” said Norris. The beef tongue is enveloped in fries, gravy, and cheese curds in an addictive take on poutine, while the sweetbreads are served buffalo-style, crispy with hot sauce, bleu cheese, and shaved celery.
Riding sidecar to the nose-to-tail ambition is the desire to be sustainable, “seed to skin.” Minnis describes this as an effort to not waste anything. As the growing season blossoms, the restaurant will be using produce harvested from Minnis’s family farm in Zanesville. “When we plant stuff ourselves, there is a heightened appreciation,” he said. “We don’t want to mess it up or burn it up, because we will have been a part of the entire process.”
Inspiration comes from, well, just living in the world – books, childhood throwbacks, a walk through the North Market.
“Growing up, it was just my mother and me,” said Norris. “She’d be in the kitchen and I’d ask her, ‘What are you doing?’ The first dish I learned was sausage and biscuits – I still have college friends who call and ask for the recipe. Oh yeah, it’s on the brunch menu.” Scalzo grew up in upstate New York, with a mother who dyed paté de choux to make play-doh and has been working in the business in some form or another since the green age of 14.
“I have a black book, a book of recipes, that I’ve had for three years running,” said Minnis. “I’m always writing things down – whether it’s an idea I get while at the market, or a new vegetable or meat technique.”
Rotating blackboard specials and an oft-changing menu will give all three ample creative space to plate up all sorts of imaginative dishes. Take the current small plate, pork rillette hand pie. It’s pork-tastic, but it’s the accoutrements that elevate this humble meat pie: caramelized apple jus, pickled green apple, and mustard ice cream.
Yep, mustard ice cream, and it’s phenomenal. Wakes up the palate, hits a perfect tang note in flavor, and adds a textural twist to the entire endeavor.
Now that Angry Bear Kitchen is open, fans don’t have to resort to the keyboard to give kudos – they can actually do it in person. “We are so excited about being in the neighborhood,” said Norris. “People keep welcoming us, and the response in Clintonville has been amazing.”Angry Bear Kitchen is located at 2653 N High St. and is open for dinner, Tuesday through Friday. There is also a late-night menu Friday and Saturday ‘til 1 a.m. and brunch on Sundays. For more information, call (614) 884-0639. Keep up with daily specials and events by liking the Facebook page.