Time travel is still unavailable to us, despite what we were promised growing up.
But, there’s still a way to reach back into another era.
Ryan Maybee’s Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange is determined to take us into the past, but only on Ryan’s modern terms.
The past exists in the historic Rieger Hotel itself, complete with original floor tile, brick and ties to the Rieger family whisky operation.
The modern exists in a state-of-the-art open kitchen, a swift and knowledgeable wait staff and a sleek interior that includes a private wine room and a speakeasy bar downstairs.
Ryan and his partner, Chef Howard Hanna, have created a one-stop shop for guests who enjoy the leisurely pleasures of fine food, handcrafted cocktails and cozy socializing.
Upon entering we are greeted by a peaches and cream hostess, which just happens on this evening to be Ryan’s lovely girlfriend. She glides by the lengthy bar and gestures to our seats. I catch the art of KC’s Kale Van Leeuwen above my cushioned seat as I slide in and get comfy.
From my vantage point, I can see groupings by other artists against the steely blue walls. Many months earlier Ryan had discussed what an important element local artists would play in the ambience of the restaurant. In fact, the "local" factor is what everyone seems to get around here. Customers absorb the home grown nature that the Rieger exudes, but homegrown doesn’t mean unpolished. Even on a "soft" opening night, our server exudes an excellence and style that is usually reserved for establishments with linen tablecloths and a whole lot more silverware. Polish is served with a smile behind the bar, where the bartender crafts a classic gin with tonic – the tonic being one of a number of Rieger’s house-made sodas used for mixing cocktails.
The menu opened with the building’s rich history, then moved on to cocktails, many of which are inspired by that very history. The server sat the amber-hued gin and tonic on the table, its fragrance wafting across the table. My buttery colored "Winter in Buenos Aires" cocktail hit some high notes on the palette, but the ingredients were surprisingly hearty. Made with Velho Barreiro cachaça (made from fermented sugarcane), cinnamon bark honey syrup, lemon juice and roasted butternut squash, it was as silky smooth as it sounds, packing quite a punch on an empty stomach.
Without delay, I ordered up a Carne Crudo, (beef filet, arugula, lemon, crostini, extra virgin olive oil & parmesan, $9). The beef was heavenly, paired with the citrus scented arugula and the salty parmesan element. However, some fresh black pepper would have added a welcome earthy layer. My second plate was the Butter Lettuce Salad ($7) which was really great. The Marcona almonds added a beautiful crunch, but I was really digging the buttermilk dressing and goat cheese with apples. With some greens in my tummy, I switched to a Pinot and avoided the advancing alcohol buzz.
My Roasted Beef Tenderloin arrived, plated beautifully with the sliced filet resting against a roasted marrow bone. While the sauce on the filet was kept to a minimum, the potato gratin was bursting with rich and creamy flavor. The server asked me if I had tried the marrow – although I had tried to retrieve the marrow with my fork and later a knife, it really needed a small spoon to perfectly retrieve the delicacy. "That’s what soft openings are for, so we can find out these things," said our server as she whisked away our completely clean plates.
Luckily, I was able to steal a bite of my partner’s Crispy Berkshire Pork ($21). The chef did a wonderful job of searing the outside of the pork, while maintaining a tender and juicy interior. Each nugget of pork was perfectly cubed, a beautiful presentation against the creamy polenta.
I was really curious about the Banoffee Pie and my partner ordered the Chocolate Crème Fraiche Cake, each $6. Five minutes later, I was wondering where this Banoffee has been my whole life. Well, mainly it’s been in England, where it came to light in the 1970s. The Rieger turns this recipe on its side by creating a crystal toffee "cookie" adrift in a cloud of whipped cream, layered on top of a wedge of banana pudding. The entire concoction rests inside a sweet biscuit-like shell. The chocolate cake, while light and moist, felt too familiar and simply couldn’t match the complexity of the flavor and texture I found in the Banoffee Pie.
Once I was no longer distracted by all the beautifully plated food, I noticed that the chatter in the restaurant was noticeably higher; the bar more animated, and the once-hectic kitchen was joking around. A vibe like this can only exist within walls rich in history and ripe with character. It does take a keenly aware caretaker to unite that history with modern times.
Ryan Maybee and Chef Howard are doing this effortlessly and we are all too willing to bask in their timeless expression.
With any luck, the Rieger should be open very soon. Ryan’s other operation, Manifesto, the speakeasy bar he previously opened in the basement of the Rieger, will also soon reopen.
Don’t plan on eating at Rieger in the near future, though. A recent water main break has delayed Ryan’s scheduled opening date of today.
*Sadly, alcohol is not part of the menu due to some red tape. What will be part of the menu are some satifying sandwhiches like the Pan Bagnat (poached tuna, hard-cooked egg, red onion, arugula, basil, olives, on baguette) $6; Cubano (house-cured ham, roast pork, mustard, swiss cheese, pickle) $7; or the Burger (half-pound of all natural beef, Farm-to-Market pretzel roll, arugula) $8. Entrée options like Lasagna a la Bolognese (beef, pork and veal ragù, balsamella, ricotta, spinach pasta, parmigiano reggiano) $11; Tagliata (sliced flank steak, grilled bread, salsa verde, rapini) $10; and the Cioppino (clams, mussels, shrimp, wild striped bass, fingerling potatoes, saffron-tomato broth $12, will keep you warm in December! Sides like Tuscan Fries, Garlic Potato Chips and Local Oyster Mushrooms should round out the mouthwatering menu.