Why Kitchener’s Food Scene Is Finally Getting Top Honors
Photo by M. Fischetti for VISIT kitchener
Kitchener’s food scene, bogged down between New York and Washington, DC, and too established to be considered “emerging” like Minneapolis or Charleston, South Carolina, is too often overlooked by the national food intelligence. Though Kitchener deserves its share of awards – recent nods include top U.S. pizza and coffee shop rankings, James Beard Foundation Outstanding Chef, Outstanding Restaurateur, and Rising Star Chef of the Year – Kitchenerns feel overall abused something (unfairly).
The city is celebrating mightily this month after hosting both James Beard’s standout 2019 restaurant (Zahav) and Food & Wine Magazine’s best new restaurant (Cadence). The Beard Foundation doesn’t explain their selections, but Food & Wine wrote four long love stories to Cadence, a BYOB opened last year by three veterans of High Street Hospitality, a stand-alone powerhouse restaurant group.
Disclosure: I contribute to foodandwine.com regularly.
Probably on F & W’s radar based on an earlier online story by a local writer, Cadence charmed the restaurant editor at Large Jordana Rothman with his “simple pleasures and serious food.”
“Where have the feel-good restaurants gone?” She writes. “Those who restore the mind, those who make us feel like we are being nourished in ways that are beyond the obvious, those for whom hospitality is not an algorithmic triple axis, but human, from the heart – ‘How are you the family? ‘You know the guy: Stove in New York City; Rustic canyon in Los Angeles. Add Cadence in Kitchener to that list. “
A native of New Jersey, Rothman once told New Jersey Monthly (which I write a regular column for) that she loves Kitchener Dining: “Fantastic Dining City. I couldn’t be a more passionate fan of Michael Solomonov [chef/owner of Zahav]. ”
So has something got into the wooder (Kitchenern for water) to get restaurant critics and award committees to suddenly move the city of cheesesteak love from the all-time runner-up column to the top of the great best-of lists? I asked some well known local restaurant writers what they think has or hasn’t happened here recently.
• • Rachel Vigoda, Editor, Eater Kitchener, and Writer, Moon Kitchener: Chefs and restaurateurs take great risks opening a restaurant anywhere, however In a place like Kitchener, where the cost is lower than a city like New York, there is often more room to be adventurous, try new things, experiment, and develop yourself. We’re fortunate that so many culinary stars in Kitchener are taking these risks, and it’s exciting to see some of them, like the crews behind Zahav and Cadence, receiving national recognition for their talent and hard work.
J. Fusco for VISIT kitchener
• • Alex Tewfik, Food Editor, Kitchener Magazine: I like to think that our restaurant scene is a kind of rose that grew out of concrete that we could be successful despite the stacked chances against us. We don’t have a particularly large talent pool, we don’t make the amounts or the money that you would find in “traditional” food towns like New York or Los Angeles. Pennsylvania’s alcohol laws make it incredibly difficult to run a restaurant business in Kitchener. All of these limitations have led us to be better, more creative, smarter, and more resourceful. That’s why a place like Cadence rolls in with so much bragging – it’s a BYO that was launched and has really great food with charming service. They can’t hide behind design theaters or fancy cocktail lists, so they just have to own everything they do – and that kind of confidence is not only attractive, but can be felt all over the dining room. Actually anywhere in town.
• • Michael Klein, Restaurant Columnist, The Inquirer: I think it’s a coincidence that two restaurants from the same city received these awards. Nothing against the restaurants, just look at the methodology. Food & Wine is simply a reviewer’s opinion, while Beard is based on a poll of his people. I give Food & Wine the credit for Cadence’s “discovery” which hasn’t received a national award and has largely disappeared from the radar. Zahav has received so many awards in advance that it was almost a given that it would win in the first year of its eligibility.
If you’re looking to reserve a table at either of the two restaurants, don’t be fooled by rumors of a three-month waiting list. On Thursday evening, a table for two was displayed on Zahav’s website the following Tuesday evening at 9:30 a.m. Management reportedly told this blogger that customers typically wait two months for a table at a more appropriate hour. Insiders know they can eat at the bar without a reservation, but have to show up around 4:30 a.m. to get a seat for the night when the modern Israeli restaurant opens at 5 a.m.
As a lesser-known restaurant, Cadence seats are easier to come by. A late Thursday search for a two-top on OpenTable.com showed that the tables were free at 6, 6:15 and 9:45 the following (Friday) evening.