A Restaurant with Rhythm

December 2023 View more

By Phil Vettel

Cadence Kitchen & Co has a tempo all its own

Inside Cadence Kitchen & Co
Cadence Kitchen & Co, 5101 Mochel Dr., Downers Grove

Todd Davies and Tim Canning envisioned opening a dining spot with a certain kind of energy. “What’s a great restaurant? What does it sound like?” says Canning, paraphrasing his conception discussion with Davies. “The hostess is chirpy and having fun, the bar is shaking a cocktail. There’s a rhythm. And Todd said, ‘You mean like a cadence?’ ”

And thus was born Cadence Kitchen & Co, a downtown Downers Grove spot that rose from the ashes of the Lemon Tree, a short-lived, ahead-of-its-time specialty grocery (run by Canning) that deserved a better fate.

Cadence Kitchen likely has a brighter future. There’s a nice energy—OK, cadence—about the place, and if that sometimes results in a high noise level, well, the sonically sensitive will be happier visiting on weekdays. The something-for-everyone menu offers creativity as well as comfort, the cocktails are clever, and the wine list has plenty of not-the-usual-suspects choices.

Skirt steak with yuca fries and chimichurri
Skirt steak with yuca fries and chimichurri

Diners of a certain age will appreciate that Canning and Davies worked together for a half-dozen years under Beard-nominated chef Steve Chiappetti, whose acclaimed Chicago restaurants included Mango, Grapes, and Rhapsody—serious culinary credentials, to be sure. But when they reunited to create Cadence, their approach was strongly analytical.

“I did research, compared Italian and bar menus (in the area), and there was like an 85 percent crossover in dishes—all the same,” Canning says. “So we thought, let’s do a chef-driven menu that allows growth.”

To that end, there are appetizers such as the Lobster Potholes, a nifty riff on escargots bourguignonne in which chunks of lobster substitute for butter-drenched snails. Served in the same indented dish used for classic escargots (thus the pothole reference), the creation tastes like butter-poached lobster with a nod to classic French presentation.

Lobster Potholes
Lobster Potholes

Other good appetizers (from a selection of 12) include the crab beignets, batter-encased crab with a sweet mustard sauce; grilled octopus in a Middle East presentation of pearl pasta, zhoug (spicy cilantro sauce, like a lively chimichurri), and chickpeas; bacon-wrapped dates with chorizo and goat cheese, and fried Brussels sprouts with togarashi spice blend and orange-balsamic glaze.

Among the main courses, there’s a short selection of steaks and chops, including a 14-ounce rib eye and eight-ounce filet au poivre. I’d recommend the more economical Angus skirt steak (all sourced from Meats by Linz, a specialty provider from Calumet City), expertly cooked and served with garlic spinach and yuca fries. And though I didn’t sample it, Canning calls the 14-ounce, brined and grilled pork chop, with blue cheese and apple butter, “my pride and joy.”

Simpler main courses include a few handhelds, including a straightforward cheeseburger; barbecue bison burger; beef-tenderloin sandwich; and something called a NY Bodega Wagyu Chopped Cheese, a torpedo roll stuffed with coarse-chopped ground beef, American cheese, and chipotle aïoli. The meat is so loose, the sandwich is served wrapped in paper (it would be hopelessly messy otherwise), and the aïoli gives the dish a distinct pepper presence. Texturally, it’s like an Italian beef sandwich arm-wrestling with a Philly cheesesteak. (Frankly, if I ordered the house burger, I’d ask the kitchen to include some of that chipotle aüoli.)

Crab beignets
Crab beignets

I did not do justice to the dessert list, but I did indulge in the chocolate flourless mousse cake, which is studded with white- and dark-chocolate curls and speared with a chocolate-pecan cookie.

Oddly, among my favorite sweets—kudos to pastry chef Laurie McNamara and assistant pastry chef Marta Miranda—are the delicious scones, which are not on the menu but are an annual fixture at Downers Grove’s weekly farmers’ market. The market, of course, is done for the season, but Cadence Kitchen maintains an email list whereby fans can order scones for Saturday-morning pickup.

The dining space, divided among multiple rooms is rustic and inviting, with walls covered in wood planks or face brick and illuminated with indirect lighting. The central bar includes the requisite number of wide-screen TVs, and the piped-in music is dominated by ’70s and ’80s tunes, which also serve as the names for the bar’s signature cocktails (Girls on Fire, Strawberry Fields, Purple Rain, Hot Blooded, Paint It Black).

“At the end of the day,” Davies says, “we’re two really close friends who love to eat and cook, critique the crap out of each other, and try to be as good as we can be.”


Photos: Regan Baroni