Wheatberry Restaurant opens in Buchanan using local producePublished 9:22am Monday, August 17, 2009
By KATHIE HEMPEL
Niles Daily Star
BUCHANAN – It could be said that a successful business like a successful culinary masterpiece is created by design and not by chance. That being the case, the restaurant that in past incarnations was known as Riverside Inn, the Scenic View Inn and Redbud Roadhouse is destined to be remembered as Wheatberry Restaurant and Tavern.
If opening weekend is any indication, cooks Rob Strom, Tony Luna; mixologist, Gavin Gillan and host extraordinaire, Mike Hoyland have discovered the perfect recipe for being successful members of their new community.
“The community has already shown us a great deal of support. We believe it is vital to be seen as part of that community,” Strom said.
This is the eighth restaurant the members of the group have designed, and all venues are still going strong. Twenty-four years of successful restaurant experience suggests this is the group to make the location exactly the kind of place – designed for success and designed to continue – area residents have longed for.
Themenu feature much in the line of local produce, meat and dairy products.
“Rob and I are both cooks by trade. The availability of all this local produce has us like two kids in a candy store. While we are very serious about what we do, we want to have a good time too,” said Luna.
The first weekend dessert, as an example, was Brandied Peaches. The fruit was less than an hour off the tree when the imagination of Wheatberry’s cooking talent, took over and created the sumptuous offering of peaches basted with brandy, nutmeats and topped with ice cream.
The cuisine is described as regional American cooking specializing in barbecued meats from their onsite smokehouse and barbeque pit.
A trip to the business’ website at www.wheatberrytavern.com suggests mouth-watering dining with whitefish chowder or wood roasted tomato basil soup followed by either a “small plate” like Ciderday Salmon, Chimmichuri Steak, Pork Empanada’s of a “big plate” featuring Garden Herb Grilled Chops, Pine Nut and Sage Skillet Trout or Wine Roasted Chicken Vesuvio. Lunches and future breakfast menus are equally delectable.
“I think that some were afraid we might be too expensive, but we want this to be everybody’s local place to gather,” Strom said.
Offering such culinary delights reasonably priced from $4.95 to $18.95 – without the drive and city traffic – the Wheatberry partners are realistic about their expectations. Their goal is to offer good food, pleasant atmosphere while supporting local farms and wineries.
The comfortable restaurant’s large chalkboards proudly announce the fresh local products being served and the local purveyors and wineries they have come from. According to the website Wheatberry’s teams brings “with us an A+ rating from beer advocate for our current craft beer selection we are very proud to provide you with the areas most extensive and delicious beer list.”
They proudly state that “because we are independents we can purchase high quality wines when they become available at the right price and we pass those savings on to you.”
This local fresh food and beverage component is important to their goal of being good neighbors. They are also interested in being good stewards of the local economy and environment.
Ecological consciousness “is not just reducing the size of your footprint, but it about the kind of revitalization that begins at home,” Strom said. “Everything we make is scratch cooking. We utilize the best and freshest the region has to offer on a daily basis.”
One of the behind-the-scene treasures of Wheatberry is pitman José Garfias, who at one of the partners’ former ventures, Merle’s Smokehouse in Chicago, was awarded the designation of best ribs by Chicago Magazine. Other Chicago area successes included the Davis Street Fish Market, Pete Miller’s Steakhouse and the Prairie Moon restaurant they continue to operate in downtown Evanston.
The partners are second home owners in the area and know it is important that their families enjoy their new neighborhood too.
“My wife and 5-year-old twins love it here,” Luna said.
Likewise Strom says his older kids, wife and dog are also beginning to feel very comfortable setting down some roots in Berrien County.
Located at 15212 North Red Bud Trail, just north of Buchanan on the St. Joseph River, it is the perfect escape for a relaxing meal. While the view is somewhat muted by an overabundance of vegetations, the group have already investigated the possibility of having some of the brush trimmed away to offer patrons a sightline to the river.
Future plans include outdoor seating front and back, an expansion of another 40 seats to the private dining area from its current capacity of 30-40 persons and the dream of even having a pontoon for floating wine tasting excursions.
The work they have already done has a feel of permanence. From the flower garden entry to the openness of the main dining room, the team has put their guests comfort foremost in the planning. Where once ceilings were low and atmosphere dark, the space is now welcoming and bright with displays of local artists’ works.
During their first weekend open, they have already sold one of the paintings on display through a partnership with the Buchanan Art Center.
“We want people to feel like we’ve always been here. We want to be the place they have their grad parties, their son’s rehearsal dinner, daughter’s baby shower, the ball team’s award dinner and community fundraisers,” Strom said.
With the Buchanan Art Center already looking to Wheatberry to host an upcoming fundraiser, the restaurant seems to be making itself at home and here to stay.
For now Wheatberry’s is open for lunch and dinner, Wednesday to Sunday. Soon they plan to add Tuesdays and breakfasts.
This is one local restaurant you don’t want to miss. For reservations call (269) 697-0043.