Chef returns ‘home’ to offer cuisine with a view

Published 7:52 pm Monday, November 15, 2010

Ryan Thornburg went back to his roots last June as executive chef of Bistro on the Boulevard. Thornburg was the original sous chef for the restaurant when it opened in 1997. Photo by Jessica Sieff


For Executive Chef Ryan Thornburg, taking over the kitchen at Bistro on the Boulevard last year was a ceremonious return of sorts.

“I actually opened this place up in ’97,” Thornburg said. “I was the original sous chef.”

Thornburg worked at the restaurant, located inside the Boulevard Inn on Lake Boulevard in St. Joseph, for 2 1/2 years, later creating dishes at nearby Tosi’s and the Orchard Hills County Club in Buchanan.

But it was last year when he got the call to return to St. Joseph.

“It was pretty natural for them to ask me,” he said. “I was happy that they asked me to come back.

“It was a great opportunity you know,” Thornburg added. “I’m from St. Joe, right here, our kids and our family, our kids go to school here or around here. It’s like coming home.”

Since taking over the kitchen, Thornburg has been making adjustments to the restaurant’s menu, keeping it fluid, creating dishes that coincide with seasonal flavors, utilizing local produce and reiterating the restaurant’s mission to be a staple for visitors and locals throughout the year.

“I think we just changed over the menus and the wine list and we really tried to focus on making it a place — we wanted to make sure we emphasize things on our menu and our wine list that are really affordable to people,” Thornburg said. “And that we weren’t a special occasion place. We try to reflect it in our prices and our menus.”

The restaurant offers bar and dining room as well as outdoor seating with a view of Lake Michigan that is a favorite among diners, Thornburg said.

“That’s where everybody wants to sit,” he said.

Thornburg’s dinner menu includes entrees such as horseradish crusted Faroe Islands salmon with sauteed spinach and a Michigan cherry vinaigrette, Saffron and chicken confit risotto and crispy duck confit. The vegetables are seasonal, the wine list appears nearly endless and desserts include homemade warm bananas foster bread pudding and the trio of creme brulees in flavors of vanilla bean, lavender and Michigan maple.

There’s also a lunch and Wednesday sushi menu available.

Thornburg said he makes good use of the local and area produce and product as much as he can.

“I think it’s important to support the economy and support your local growers and artisans … we should use it, it’s right out our back door.”

Behind the scenes and in the kitchen, Thornburg said he’s fortunate to have a good cooking staff that cares about the food they put out, is encouraged to come up with new and interesting ideas and is willing to work with new ingredients.

“I think people in the area still don’t know there’s a restaurant here,” Thornburg said. “It’s been here 13 years now … yeah that’s still a struggle to get the word out that we’re here, we’re here all the time, three meals a day, seven days a week.”

Bistro on the Boulevard is located at 521 Lake Blvd., St. Joseph. It can be reached at (269) 983-3882 or visit it online at