Update: Sadly, Driftwood has relocated to St.Louis. You can find the team behind Driftwood at their new place.
The downtown eatery, Driftwood, has announced its new menu, which is set to plate starting Monday, March 20, 2017.
Eighteen21.com spoke with chef and owner, 33-year-old Ryan Lewis of Bethalto, IL - who has been cooking for over seven years, including time with American Harvest - to learn more about these exciting changes.
Why did you decide to change/update your menu?
The last change came around November and we typically do an update every few months, more so in the spring/autumn than in the winter, so this change has been long overdue. We'll probably keep this menu for about a month-and-a-half to two, but the next update will include fresh spring produce and less of an entire revamp. Seasonality is what we have based our concept on and that's part of what drives the new menu creations.
When did you start working on the changes/updates?
Almost right after the current menu came out I began work on this one and that's pretty common. Writing a menu is a lot like writing a book; it takes time, inspiration, motivation, and a lot of work to get everything right. Typically, when we publish a new menu it's the third or fourth version of that menu that people get, the staff and a few regulars who happen to wander in at the right time usually get to taste things as I work on them.
What did you keep from the previous menu?
Most of the time we keep four or five current dishes on our new menu with just a couple of minor tweaks, this menu's holdovers include our cheese curds, which are our top sellers and have been since we opened, our bollitos etoufee, shrimp and chips, pickled plate, and chicken wings. There are a couple other dishes that have had minor revamps such as our fried chicken dish - we removed the potato pancake and added a biscuit, which is something we've done in the past. Another dish is the pork cheek with red beans and rice. On the last menu, we used pork shoulder and the cheek was paired to create an entirely different dish. This change occurred because the cheek is a richer cut and we moved the pork shoulder to the new ramen dish.
Are there any new additions you are excited to introduce?
I'm looking forward to seeing a new version of shrimp and grits back on the menu. This menu is more seafood heavy, which is something we've been trying to do for some time with mixed results. This menu will feature trout, monkfish, squid, a shrimp dish, shrimp and grits, and shrimp and chips. Outside of the seafood world, I'm really excited to bring bone marrow back into the fold - it's been a long time since we've done it.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered when working on these changes/updates?
Writing a menu for anything, whether a beer dinner or a full menu revamp, the biggest challenge is finding the time when I'm feeling driven, excited, and passionate about it. Cooking and menu writing is about the personal connection to the food, and when you cook or write you can taste or read the love that goes into it. One of the other struggles is remembering what your goals are, what you set out to do, and making sure your menu reads cohesively.
What would you say was your overall vision when you embarked on this mission?
Since we've opened, our goals have been to bring a grazing style of eating to the table. By that it means to encourage multiple dishes, try something new, branch out, give something a chance you would never order and the goal remains the same. I feel the largest difference between this menu and previous ones is a refined look and some of the dishes are more polished. You'll see the polish come through more so in the foie gras and eggs, and squid with shrimp and cabbage dishes, both brand new preparations to this menu.
Do you feel you succeeded?
The concept of shared plates has been all right, but it's not for everyone and that's something we've learned as a team; my wait staff has done a wonderful job adjusting the approach of how to express the concept to our customers. We have adjusted the menu's layout this time around and moved things into two categories, small plates, and larger plates, to help ease any confusion about whether that dish is adequate to share or not.
As much as we are a grazing menu/small plates restaurant, our real goal is a welcoming and comforting environment. We are somewhere that if we see you a couple times, we will know you most likely by name. I have a wonderful core wait staff and they get what we're doing and embody who are. Almost everyone who has come in has met Joel behind the bar or has had Carina or Brittany as a waitress at some point, chances are I've probably stopped by or grabbed you a beer, we're all working for the same cause and that's what makes Driftwood what it is.
Is there anything else in the works for Driftwood?
There's always something in the works, whether it's a beer or spirits dinner, a charity event, or maybe even a popup outside the market. At the moment, the most imminent event is our beer dinner with Destihl Brewing on Thursday, March 23. We've paired with Destihl and Custom Cup Coffee to offer two beers - neither of which will be available elsewhere. We've worked these into a four-course beer dinner that also features two other Destihl beers. Beer dinners have always been something we've thrived at.
In addition to our beer dinners, we've done quite a few bourbon and wine dinners too. The best way to keep tabs on what we have going on, or coming up, is Facebook. Instagram provides more elusive insight into who we are overall. So, I suggest everyone keep an eye on our social feeds for sure.
Photo credit: Kari Bedford