Randy Rucker is back. Two years after abandoning his plans to open a restaurant called conāt in the Museum District, the chef, who's known for his extensive use of locally raised and foraged ingredients, has emerged with plans to open a restaurant called Bramble in the former Mancuso's Italian Table space on Voss.
While skeptics will say they've heard this before, Rucker, along with business partners Eoghan Dillman and Thomas J. Holmes, III, have a lease on the space. Remodeling begins this week with design work by Collaborative Projects, the firm that's currently finishing up both Julep and the Bernie's Burger Bus brick and mortar restaurant spaces. Together, the partners expect Bramble to open this fall.
Despite the time away, the man's cooking still attracts a crowd, as evidenced by the 40-plus people who attended a six course pop-up.
Why now? Rucker tells CultureMap that he hadn't been inspired to cook professionally for over a year, but things have changed now that he's older and has found business partners who can fully support his vision for a restaurant.
Despite the time away, the man's cooking still attracts a crowd, as evidenced by the 40-plus people who attended a six course pop-up dinner Friday night. Hubcap Grill owner Ricky Craig, Triniti chef/owner Ryan Hildebrand, pastry chef Plinio Sandalio and former Hawthorn chef Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio were among the restaurant industry veterans who attended the dinner to see what Rucker's future holds.
While Rucker tends to avoid characterizing his cuisine as being of any one style, he did offer diners a perspective on Bramble's ethos after the meal.
The whole idea of what we’re trying to do here is reconnect y’all to your native reality.
We want to show you what true luxury is. True luxury to us or to me as a restaurant is nothing you can put a price on. Anyone can go to a store and buy caviar or truffles or foie gras. . . . That’s not true luxury. To me, what luxury is white tail deer or certain things we have that are ours. . . . Blue crab, that’s what luxury is.
Money is what it is. If you want to spend it, I’ll take it. But true luxury to me and hopefully to the guys is what’s ours. Our mushrooms we grow here, our wild edibles, our farmers, our ranchers.
And yet, for Rucker's talk, Friday's meal didn't feel like a very luxurious experience, at least in the traditional sense. For example, only half the six courses were served individually. The rest were delivered on shared plates that guests had to split.
The Facebook event page promised pre-dinner snacks that never appeared. For $65 per person, surely Rucker could have prepared enough food to feed everyone.
Also, it seemed that each dish didn't receive the same level of attention in preparation. On the one hand, the final dish of cocks combs with Mung beans is exactly the sort of dish that demonstrates Rucker at his best — an unusual ingredient, prepared well, that delivered a rich flavor that made the gelatinous texture intriguing rather than unpleasant. A dish of raw beef was chewy but flavorful thanks to shiso peppers and a mysterious powder made from dehydrated goose.
On the other, the fifth course of cured and grilled pig liver was undercooked for my portion and flat out cold for a friend's. The metallic flavor of liver can be a tough sell for even the most adventurous diner, and it becomes totally inedible when not cooked properly. And yet, another diner told me he devoured his entire portion.
Similar lack of execution plagued a dish of "biscuits" with housemade buttermilk cheese curds and local honey. The flavors came together beautifully, but the biscuits never rose properly and were served as thin, pita-like strips. If Rucker had called his toasted yeast creations "dumplings" instead of "gnocchi," it might have been OK, but they were too gummy to match my expectations for Italian potato dumplings that are usually soft.
After the meal, Rucker described the event as a "party," which make explain his lackadaisical attitude towards getting all the details right. After all, when would-be restaurants like Mangiamaccheroni or The Bull & The Pearl host a pop-up, it serves as both a meal and an audition for future investors. Rucker's financing is secure, and, if Friday night's turnout is any indication, his reputation among diners is still just as safe even after a two-year hiatus.
Hopefully, he's able to bring the full force of his talent to Bramble, but, until it's open and consistent, a healthy dose of skepticism seems warranted.