Since taking over the former Sawyer’s space at Van Aken District, the partners at Forward Hospitality
have been busy undoing a lot of the work that came before them, explains CEO Michael Schwartz.
“Most of the remodel has occurred in this room,” Schwartz says of the dining room. “The elevation was changed, all the walls were changed, all these structures were put up, all of the lighting was changed, the bathrooms were completely redone, the ceiling was painted, the fake-plant thing in the center was removed… My philosophy, from a design standpoint, is to be monochromatic and let the food stand out, and then let some areas of the wall pop with color.”
That color will appear in the form of original artwork and graffiti-style tagging, which will transform the former white-tile divider on this side of the open kitchen into a lively feature wall.
When Kindred Spirit debuts in mid-March, it will do so as a hipper, more approachable restaurant better suited to the neighborhood just outside its doors, states its owners.
With interior design covered, they turned next to the food. For that they brought in consulting chef Andrew Brochu, whose resume reads like a “Best Restaurants of Chicago” list. He’s worked at such illustrious places as Alinea, Aviary, Roister, Kith and Kin, El Ideas and Graham Elliot. But when it came time to develop the menu for Kindred Spirit, Brochu had zero desire to please the star-gazers.
“I wasn’t trying to write a nerdy, chef-driven menu for all the culinary people, but not the everyday people,” says Brochu. “In fact, I did the opposite. I tried to write a menu that was for this neighborhood, for this clientele. I didn’t want the menu to look too playful. We really wanted to focus on impactful, powerful, delicious flavor profiles rather than too much creativity. There definitely are no tweezers in the kitchen.”
Brochu describes the cuisine as “West Coast energy with influence from the Mediterranean and around the globe.” Think fresh, healthy and flavorful, with a heavy focus on greens, grains, veggies, fish and a handful of meats. Implementing that menu on a day-to-day basis will be executive chef Dennis Davis, formerly of Lockkeepers.
A majority of the menu is dedicated to small plates in categories like dips and spreads, salads and vegetables, seafood, and skewers. Spreads include cauliflower onion dip with crudité, short rib-topped hummus with flatbread, and a riff on Southern pimento cheese. There’s an Asian-style smashed cucumber dish, smoked salmon on pumpernickel and mini fish fry. Grilled skewers will be threaded with tofu and shrooms, barbecue lamb, and salt-and-pepper shrimp. Large plates swing from grilled hangar steak with crispy potato to mustard-glazed salmon with baby broccoli.
For Schwartz and company, the comprehensive restaurant renovation was an opportunity not only to improve the space and ready it for a new purpose, but also to better marry it with Garden City, the cocktail-focused rooftop lounge above. Because Sawyer’s closed in March and Garden City opened in June, the two never co-existed. Now, management is looking forward to the type of cross-pollination that includes pre- and post-dinner cocktails. Chefs Brochu and Davis will create a bar-friendly menu pulled from the restaurant below.
In terms of numbers, Kindred Spirit will seat 105 indoors and another 35 out front. Garden City can accommodate approximately 100 throughout its stylish indoor-outdoor footprint.
To start, Kindred Spirit will serve dinner five nights a week. It will add weekend brunch and expand to dinner every night down the road.
Forward Hospitality is a Cleveland-based restaurant and entertainment group that also operates Flip Side, Three Palms, One Red Door, Bell & Flower, Magnolia, FWD Day + Nightclub and SeeSaw in Columbus.