Carson Kitchen quietly opened its doors last week, so quietly that the signage has yet to arrive. The only indication you’ve found the restaurant is a larger-than-life visage of celebrity chef and partner Kerry Simon plastered on the front window.
Simon, who recently went public with his battle against multiple system atrophy, might not be cooking, but the well-loved local chef has been intimately involved with Carson Kitchen’s creative menu.
The space itself is cool and accessible. While the larger upstairs area and rooftop weren’t open during my visit, the industrial-ish downstairs provides a clear view into an open kitchen where you can practically touch the staff. With heavy woods and metals interspersed with exposed block and wood joists, the room would feel just as at home in downtown Chicago or New York City as it is in the former John E. Carson Hotel, and that’s a big compliment to the design team.
Carson Kitchen appears to be a return to Simon’s successful formula of twisting up familiar comfort food, with deviled eggs topped with pancetta and caviar situated alongside a butter burger and baked mac and cheese. But some of the early highlights appear to be departures from the chef’s typical dishes.
Not commonly found on local menus, fried chicken skins are a good starting point. Served alongside a tasty (yet ultimately unnecessary) smoked honey, the skins are light and crispy, with a meld of salt and pepper. This is my favorite part of the chicken and should be yours, too.
The carnivore-friendly bacon jam, essentially a reduction, is hauntingly good, served bubbling atop baked brie with toasted baguette slices. On the heartier side, veal meatballs are finished with peas and a rich sherry foie gras cream. With each bite, crisp exteriors open into a juicy interior, and bathed in that luxurious cream, it’s a dish that sticks with you.
Playful riffs on common desserts are another Simon calling card, so the success of the bourbon fudge brownie is completely unsurprising. While the brownie conveys a hint of boozy flavor, the brown butter bacon ice cream is an epiphany, revisiting the bacon jam’s duo of smoky and sweet. Equally successful are Not Your Father’s Twinkies with mandarin orange coulis. These treats wouldn’t survive the apocalypse on store shelves, as they’d be eaten long before then.
While this is just an early glimpse of the fare, executive chef Matt Andrews has clearly translated Simon’s visions into reality. Carson Kitchen should be a fixture on the Downtown dining circuit and a welcome destination for comfort food. Simon wouldn’t have it any other way.
Carson Kitchen 124 S. 6th St. #100, 702-473-9523. Daily, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.