It's been a busy few weeks for kitchen magician Jensen Cummings, who stepped behind the line of Row 14 Bistro & Wine Bar just three weeks ago after leaving behind his chef de cuisine position at TAG to fill the shoes of Arik Markus, the executive chef who originally opened Row 14.
And that means it's crunch time for Cummings, who's been buried in menu overhauls since he took over the reins of Row 14's kitchen on July 22.
"We rolled out a new lunch menu last Monday, a new brunch menu on Sunday that's total stoner food, and new dinner and happy-hour menus, too," says Cummings, adding that he's got more in store over the coming weeks, when he'll also introduce a late-night menu as well as "secret," off-menu dishes that will spotlight the creativity of his line, which includes several ex-TAG staffers, many of whom Cummings worked alongside during his tenure there.
"We're still working out all the details, but late-night at Row 14 is going to be one of the best spots in the city for industry people, guests and our cooks," insists Cummings. "We're working on some really fun, geeky and cool things we don't do at any other time during the day -- including secret menu items -- and it's a really great opportunity to let the cooks shine, especially since they make some stuff even better than I do."
In the meantime, the new dinner menu, says Cummings, will focus on "better ingredients, like Wagyu beef and Kurobuta pork and a lot more shared starters that pair well with wines."
But it's that brunch board of "stoner food" that's really making us hungry. To wit: "Elvis" flapjacks with peanut butter, whipped cream, candied bacon and brûléed bananas, as well as the "porker" omelet, an in-your-face, sausage-centric stunner with lop chong, pork belly, bacon and salumi. The clincher, notes Cummings, is that it's an egg-white omelet. "I know! Egg whites! it's totally insane, but it's also memorable and playful, and if people want it with regular eggs, that's fine, too," says Cummings.
And that's not all: Cummings is also introducing a Flintstones vitamin mimosa, a cocktail made with Luxardo Marasca cherries and rimmed with crushed Flintstones vitamins. "It'll help the hangover," he insists.
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"I love playing with menus, and I want to build the same kind of local following for brunch that we have at dinner," explains Cummings. "We want to be memorable, and even though this is, first and foremost, a business, I love that I can have a good time with food, have fun and just play."
And that playfulness will extend to the restaurant's double happy hours, when Cummings and his crew haul out the fryolator. "We're paying homage to all things fried: fried avocados, carne asada fries and even a fried gyoza with strawberry cream cheese," says Cummings.
While the menus are at the crux of Row 14's changes, Cummings, a self-described beer nerd, notes, that the staff is also re-energizing the cocktail program and the beer syllabus. "We're definitely going to have some fun with the cocktails, and I'm trying to get some limited-allocation beer stuff in, too, because, you know, I really, really love beer. It makes the world go 'round."