Sidestreets, says Reiser, is `kind of like a family'

He oversees 150 meals a day in Ellicott City

Profile of the chef

October 31, 2002|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

John Reiser, the chef at Sidestreets Restaurant in Ellicott City, has come a long way since his first kitchen job, cleaning dishes at the restaurant of a Holiday Inn in Pennsylvania.

He took that job when he was 15, having decided that he preferred a warm kitchen to the harsh outdoors of construction work.

Now, at 33, he is in charge of the kitchen at Sidestreets, in the heart of historic Ellicott City. The restaurant is in a cobbled alley and features wood floors and a rustic interior.

Like most chefs, Reiser works crazy hours while preparing as many as 150 meals a day. Twelve-hour shifts are the rule, not the exception. After a lunchtime when as many as 70 meals are served, he will use the slower time between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to prepare for the evening rush.

His staff includes two cooks and a combination dishwasher-prep cook. Owner Stephen Hargest helps prepare specials and does much of the cooking.

4-year apprenticeship

Reiser never attended cooking school, but when he was 22 he started a four-year stint as an apprentice, working under a chef in a small Italian restaurant in New Jersey. "We made everything by hand, including the pasta," he said.

Reiser was sous chef, or second in command, at Ellicott Mills Brewing Company on Ellicott City's Main Street for 2 1/2 years. After that, he worked for six months at Dimitri's, a casual Greek and American restaurant just over the county line in Catonsville before moving to Sidestreets in August last year.

At the brewing company, he prepared as many as 420 meals on a busy night, he said. At Sidestreets, he said, "I can take a little bit of time on my dishes. There, it's as fast as you can dish it out."

The Sidestreets menu includes seafood, pasta, poultry and meat entrees, with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients. Specials are offered each night to take advantage of food at its peak.

During the summer, the restaurant uses a lot of fruit salsas to flavor its food, Hargest said. In winter, butters mixed with cheeses and herbs might take center stage.

Some of the more popular dishes include Las Vegas shrimp, which consists of jumbo shrimp stuffed with crab meat and wrapped in bacon; and a mixed grill of andouille sausage, duck breast and filet of beef, Reiser said. A Mediterranean seafood stew with shrimp, scallops, fish and sausage in a wine and garlic broth is also a favorite with customers.

"And, of course, the crab cakes," he said. "They go like wildfire."

Popular appetizers include an artichoke dip made with cheeses and garlic, and a crab and brie fondue, he said.

`Best ingredients'

"We'll do a little bit of everything," said Hargest, who ran the kitchen when he opened the restaurant nearly 20 years ago. "We try to take the best ingredients, the freshest ingredients ... and we'll go ahead and work our heads together and do something with maybe a California flair, maybe a southwestern flare, maybe Italian."

Hargest said working with Reiser is a pleasure. "The great thing about him is, we can sit down together," Hargest said.

They take into consideration the availability of ingredients and even the weather in coming up with specials.

"It's kind of like a family in here," Reiser said. "We all work together to get the job done."

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