Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Before it even opened on Wednesday, a new restaurant in Government Hill had already generated ample buzz in the local culinary community, among food lovers, and in this evolving neighborhood.
The highly anticipated Eastside Kitchenette, now serving a daily lunch and weekend brunch, is the creation of Chef Jeff White and his wife Jenn White, and the first restaurant the experienced food and hospitality pair has built from the ground up.
“We’ve had our smaller projects, getting our feet wet ... [all] for this,” said Jeff, a longtime former executive chef at favorite eateries across San Antonio.
Residents of nearby Dignowity Hill, the Whites have spent a full year remodeling a former Mexican café on the Interstate 35 frontage road into a casual restaurant worthy of the East Side’s “glory days,” Jeff said.
“The [people in the] area here, they want a place where they can just go in the neighborhood and feel comfortable and not be overcharged or rushed, and feel at home and eat food that they would like to eat two or three times a week, and not once a year on special-occasion days,” he added. “This is a place they can come any day of the week.”
Inside the two-story, 1910 corner-lot dwelling with white siding, a tin roof, wraparound porch, and bars on the windows, it is warm and homey. The spacious dining room has wooden tables with comfortable Longford side chairs, counter seating and barstools, and ample booth seating.
Weathered shiplap walls are decorated with original art and old china, and tiny potted succulents and knickknacks from nearby porch décor store Chica Verde are displayed here and there. In one corner, a porcelain Vesta kitchenette oven serves as the restaurant’s mascot, Jeff said.
Signage, created by local artist Joseph Favela and bearing the Eastside Kitchenette name and logo, is made from an old truck door. It was waiting to be installed on the front lawn when the Rivard Report visited on the eve of opening day. Two women who mistakenly thought the restaurant had already opened were welcomed into a booth in the dining room, and the kitchen was already buzzing.
Chicken-fried Kobe steak with whipped potatoes and gravy ($18) came out steaming, along with pimento cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped jalapeño skewers topped with buttermilk ranch dressing and chives ($9). This familiar homestyle cooking with a playful, creative spin is “the kind of food people have been doing in backyards" and "now making it onto plates in finer restaurants,” Jeff said.
Like the restaurant, which Jeff designed himself, the menu is approachable and affordable – lunch entrees run $10 on average.
The menu features Southern regional classics just like Mom used to make, only better perhaps. There are plates of hushpuppies with white barbecue sauce, charred octopus with apple pico de gallo, barbecue meatloaf, chicken and brioche dumplings, blue crab-stuffed catfish, double hamburgers, entrée salads, and country-fried duck confit. Even the condiments and pickles are house-made.
Saturday and Sunday’s brunch menu, served from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will feature familiar favorites like egg platters and avocado toast along with Jeff's signature creations – pork belly hangover hash, fried green tomato and crab benny, apple cider French toast, and fried chicken with pumpkin waffles.
“Our goal is to make good food for the people of this area,” Jeff said. “We feel there’s nothing like that on this corridor.”
The restaurant’s vibe is eclectic and relaxed in a historic building turned restaurant that’s not at the Pearl, where Jeff once opened the popular Boiler House. Yet it’s not far, and that’s perhaps what makes Eastside Kitchenette, situated just over a mile east with a spacious dining porch, a model for what’s to come.
David Malley, a real estate investor and self-proclaimed food lover, who owns Tenko Ramen at the Pearl Food Hall and Cherrity Bar on the East Side, is backing the project. “More than anything, I started out wanting to be involved with Jeff because his food is phenomenal,” Malley said. “When he approached me about the restaurant, I loved it because it’s on the East Side ... four blocks from my house. It will be nice to have something besides Sonic and Bill Miller’s.”
He believes people will flock from all over San Antonio to dine at Eastside Kitchenette, but especially from the surrounding area, including Fort Sam Houston, which is currently starved for good, affordable restaurants.
Malley added that he hopes to bring five or six more restaurants to the area near the Alamodome. “But it’s just not the time yet. I’m still trying to build up the Cherrity Bar, and I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew.”
A San Antonio native, Jeff worked his way through high school and college toiling at restaurants here and in San Marcos, while earning a degree in mechanical engineering. After early stints at family-style spots like Tom’s Ribs and PoFolks, and three eye-opening months at a desk job he hated, Jeff set his sights on perfecting his craft – at finer dining establishments, Biga on the Banks, L’Etoile (closed since 2009), and Ácenar.
“I was meant for the organized chaos of the kitchen,” the self-taught chef said.
Most recently, Jeff served as executive chef at Boiler House, then Tucker’s Kozy Korner where he worked alongside Jenn, who has 20 years experience in the hospitality industry and owns and operates Brindles Awesome Ice Cream. Kent Russell, formerly of Maverick Texas Brasserie and Outlaw Kitchens, is sous chef at Eastside Kitchenette.
A year in the making, Eastside Kitchenette took about $500,000 to open and plenty of sweat equity, Jeff said, adding that Medina Construction finished work on the building after the first contractor stole $50,000 from the project.
The restaurant also offers a variety of classic cocktails, 16 brands of beer, and eight varietals of wine. Jeff said in the coming weeks Eastside Kitchenette will be open for dinner with a slightly different menu, and he has future plans to open for breakfast.
Eastside Kitchenette is located at 2119 N. I-35 at Rogers Avenue.