By: Shannon Cornman
Hype is impressive.
It gets people excited. For new restaurants, hype can be a godsend. They get customers. They get word-of-mouth advertising. They get known.
But a godsend turns into a god-help-you when the restaurant doesn’t live up to that hype. The word-of-mouth is a curse word. The customers go someplace else.
So what is so impressive about Kitchen No. 324, the hot new downtown spot for breakfast and lunch, is that it was saddled with all the hype in the world ... and exceeded expectations.
If you go for breakfast, let me first ask you: How do you feel about poached eggs? Do you love them? You should. Whites cooked firm, but not rubbery, yolk runny but slow and luscious, like the world’s tastiest yellow lava. Poached eggs are pretty integral to the Kitchen No. 324 breakfast menu.
My personal favorite is the open-faced toast ($7.99). Kitchen makes its own bread products (pastries included), and that toast sits at the bottom of a pile of shaved ham and Gruyére cheese, two poached eggs and a drizzle of thyme béchamel sauce.
Béchamel is classic French cooking. A roux of butter, flour and seasoning with milk or cream, creating a rich, lightly sweet kind of gravy. Add in Parmesan cheese and you have Alfredo sauce. Yes. This is kind of like Alfredo sauce on your breakfast. You are welcome.
Another French sauce, the hollandaise, can be found on the fried green tomatoes Benedict ($7.99), which includes poached eggs and comes on a house-made English muffin. Please use the knife and fork provided to eat the food and not to stab at your friends who are trying to take a bite of yours. There should be a sign.
If you like your eggs done — and even if you don’t — you’ll enjoy the bacon and Monterey Jack strata ($6.99). Tender brioche is the base for something that’s kind of like a quiche and kind of like a casserole ... and kind of might become sentient and run for office and win by a landslide, because who doesn’t like eggs, bacon and cheese?
Oh, and Kitchen puts that béchamel sauce over the top of it, so try not to pass out from euphoria.
Coffee? Get some. The pour-over ($2.85) and the mocha ($4.25) are great ways to start the day. The Americano ($2.85) might become my new go-to order, however. Espresso. Hot water. That’s a cup of joe right there.
If you go for lunch, be prepared to take a long lunch. Kitchen is very efficient, but I have seen lines. Oh, the lines I have seen.
And when you see the fried-chicken pot pie ($9.99), you will understand why. It’s visually stunning to see a fried-chicken leg sticking out of the top crust of the pot pie. Inside is velvety-smooth cream with more chicken, potatoes and carrots.
The double-smoked pastrami sandwich ($9.99) is a killer. If I worked at Kitchen, I would probably be fired for sneaking to the back and just peeling off piece after piece of this peppery, salty, tender beef. Add in Gruyére, spicy mustard and fresh pickles, and it’s a deli dream come true.
It took a few minutes for me to fully appreciate the hand-carved beef tenderloin French dip ($12.99), but that’s because I wasn’t dipping for long enough. Get double au jus. The sandwich is fine, but it needs a good, long soak in that jus to reach full-flavor potential.
More beef? Sure. The braised short ribs ($10.99), served pot roast-style, will reignite your love of meat, in case that was something flagging.
Just watch your fork go in. It’s so tender, you will not need a knife to retrieve the piece you want. Short rib is such a chameleon, and here, it truly becomes the pot roast you dream of and not the one your mom actually used to make.
The sides are ... Look, it’s kind of not fair for Kitchen No. 324 to be this good. The Israeli couscous ($3.99) and the Yukon Gold potato salad ($3.99) are perfectly done. At most other restaurants, you’d be ordering them as a main dish.
The hype leading up to Kitchen No. 324’s opening was intense, but that’s probably because the Good Egg Dining Group has a proven track record of winners. There is thoughtfulness to this food. And Kitchen’s menu reads like a Martha Stewart Living magazine — rustic American with a flair for indelible flavors.