Almost like waiting for Godot, I have watched the
southwest corner of State Street for the last several years, wondering what
would become of the property. Difficult it has been "to hold the
terrible silence at bay" (mostly since the restaurant 302 West closed) in
the interim. Has it actually been more than four years that the historic
old building that once housed the State Bank of Geneva has sat vacant?
Having grown up in Geneva -- and still living
close by -- I have seen many changes to my boyhood home. The past few years have
brought a few changes -- like the loss of some old and wonderful businesses -- that
have been very difficult for me to watch (grant me the strength to accept the
things I cannot change...). And although for a long time it may have
seemed like the better alternative, it never does help much to dwell on the
The time has come to move on, the "stranger"
has finally arrived, and from the
looks of the new digs (and from recent conversations), I believe things are
moving along quite nicely. Importantly, the building at 302 West State
Street officially has a new occupant, one that seems prepared to take things to
a whole new level -- literally.
Actually, three levels would be more accurate. The new kid on the block goes by the name of Even Flow Music &
and he's using all three existing levels in the building to create some pretty
significant buzz, if you'll pardon the unintended pun, as the focus will be on
the type of live entertainment -- jazz, blues and rock -- found in cities
like Chicago, New Orleans and Nashville.
In the event you have been to the previous two
venues that occupied the location, be prepared for something completely
different when you walk through the doors. Even Flow features a full-size
stage in the northeast corner of the building, a full bar that runs the length
of the main floor, a loft area on the upper level and a lower-level lounge as
well which, as of this writing, is not quite finished. Even so, the new
owners (Michael Knuth and Nick Mercadante) have executed some pretty extensive
renovation that, frankly, is impressive.
The idea for an entertainment venue had been
rolling around Knuth's head for about six years when the possibilities for the
building at 302 West State Street presented themselves; it was something that he
and Mercadante couldn't pass up. So, in February, renovation began and the
interior started to take on a whole new look and feel as the upstairs bar went
away, the main level received a redesigned kitchen along with a bar that extends
the length of the floor, and the lower level is getting a complete make-over (it
should have the finishing touches by the end of July), offering a relaxed atmosphere where one can imbibe beverages at a
full bar or enjoy conversation
at one of the many tables or near a fireplace... all while watching the musical
acts on closed-circuit television.
Naturally interested in food and dining, I was
curious to know how the venue would combine a swanky new music scene with its
dining options... To answer that question -- and a few more -- I recently had the opportunity to steal some time away from a
very busy Daniel Emerson, executive chef for Even Flow. Judging from the
items I drooled over on the site's
menu, there seem to be plenty of plates from which to choose -- be
they the "big" or "small" version. More on specifics in a moment.
Chef Daniel may be a relative newcomer to the
restaurant scene -- while taking on the Executive Chef duties at Even Flow, he
is also finishing up on a degree in Hospitality Administration/Management at
DeVry University -- but don't be fooled by his young age and almost-boyish
looks. Behind an ever-present smile is a significant verve that
accompanies his talents in the kitchen: he knows what he is doing and he likes
it. Friend and mentor Executive Chef Todd Davies from Tap House Grill (six
locations in the suburbs, including St. Charles), collaborated with Daniel on a
menu that beckons you to try all of the items.
Guests can enjoy American contemporary cuisine
"big plates" for dinner with choices that include Seared Diver
Scallops with watermelon salsa, cucumber, micro greens and a balsamic glaze,
Grilled Veggie Lasagna with red and yellow peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, egg
plant, goat cheese, ricotta, tomato and Parmesan, all resting atop a smooth
tomato-goat cheese sauce or Cured Pork Chops with a blue cheese crust and brioche
apple stuffing. Too much? Try some of the "small plates" like
Open-Faced Stout-Braised Short Rib Minis with jicama, cabbage slaw and local
brioche, or Spicy Fried Chicken and Waffles with honey or even some
Meatballs with Michigan berries compote and a French baguette!
I watched as the chef deftly prepared some
examples so I could take some pictures: scallops, lasagna, chicken waffle and a
Watermelon Bruschetta Salad of mixed greens, goat cheese and extra-virgin olive
oil dressing... and then asked if I'd like to try them. I obviously said
yes, and my taste buds responded with a hearty round of applause! I now
have the excuse I (barely) needed to return to Even Flow for more of the chef's
menu items. But I'll share a little secret: everything I tasted was
delicious... but the scallops were awesome and I can definitely recommend them.
By the way, all the items are fresh and are made from scratch... the way they should
Soooo, I am now
left to wonder, is Even Flow Music & Spirits:
entertainment venue that just happens to serve great food and spirits?
cocktails-type venue that just happens to provide top-notch
entertainment and food?
C) a great
dining venue that includes a really nice area to enjoy cocktails and
If this were a real
test, the best answer choice would be "D" -- all of the above. I
am encouraged by what I have seen and heard -- and tasted -- thus far.
Interestingly, owner Nick Mercadante happened by as I was talking with
Chef Daniel. I mentioned that the renovations and changes looked
really nice. He smiled and responded that "We're trying to do
everything the right way." I like that part, a lot. There
were several employees who were in the restaurant that day as well; they
all seemed to exude a great feeling of energy and confidence.
I like that, too.
Note: Although the approximate 200-seat
capacity restaurant has already undertaken
a "soft" opening (which helps to determine where the areas of strength are...
and also some of the kinks that need attention), a grand opening is scheduled
for August 4th at 4:30 p.m. So get ready for a significant bash with lots
of great music, locally-brewed beers or hand-crafted cocktails and certainly
some excellent fare prepared especially for the occasion by Chef Daniel -- hope
to see you there!