By Burton Speakman
Canfield’s newest dining option doesn’t fit in with much of the Mahoning Valley food scene, the business owners say.
It focuses on steaks and seafood and doesn’t offer a lot in terms of pasta.
Whitefire Grille & Spirits’ goal is to offer customers a different type of restaurant in the Mahoning Valley, while still offering foods that local diners will be comfortable eating.
The goal was not just to open another pasta house, said Doug Zappi, a Youngstown native and owner.
“We’re not so arrogant as to say we’re a chophouse,” he said. “You can’t do that in this market.”
The Youngstown market is still dominated by chains or independent restaurants that evolved from one another, Zappi said. The area is at least 10 to 12 years behind Pittsburgh when it comes to niched bistros.
“We wanted to keep the menu neutral at Whitefire so we can evolve,” he said.
There was some fear about trying to open a different type of restaurant in this area because most of the dining options in the Valley are similar, Zappi said.
But since opening in early May at the former home of Harry and Jean’s, 6580 Ironwood Blvd., there have been a number of people who have been appreciative of having different menu options, he said.
The restaurant’s entire focus was designed around the food. All the managers previously have been chefs, Zappi said.
The menu ranges from around $9 for sandwiches to as much as $36 for the 16-ounce prime rib. The steaks are wet-aged for 28 days, grass fed and imported from the Sonoma Valley in California, said Ken Daughenbaugh, general manager.
The grill is a gas and wood combination, said Justin Winck, executive chef. The brisket that is served as part of a dinner and sandwich takes 36 hours to slow smoke.
The chef is also proud of the craft-raised Salmon that is flown from Vancouver to Cleveland and delivered to the restaurant multiple times per week.
“It doesn’t taste anything like the farm-raised salmon that is served at most places,” Winck said. “When we really get going, we’ll be getting fresh fish deliveries — if not every day, then at least five times a week.”
The hope is that people will try some of the items on the menu that aren’t as common in the area that the restaurant does well, such as the lobster roll, brisket, smoked ribs or chicken Marsala, he said.
“The key is getting people to try them,” Winck said.
There’s nothing on the menu that’s too adventurous, however, Daughenbaugh said.
Harry and Jean’s was a Southern-food restaurant that lasted more than two years at the site. Zappi said Whitefire hasn’t done a lot with the building’s interior.
It’s designed to look like a 1930s Southern farmhouse with lots of wood, he said.
There is one item on the menu that stems from the former Harry and Jean’s. Whitefire offers shrimp and grits.
“The shrimp and grits were popular there, so we wanted to put our own spin on it,” Winck said.
Despite having a location a little off U.S. Route 224, traffic has come quickly for the restaurant, Daughenbaugh said.
“There were people who started coming to the door two months before we opened asking if we were open,” he said.
Until recently, Whitefire hasn’t attempted to advertise about its location. The reason was to allow staff and kitchen workers to get used to operating and what’s expected of them before attracting larger crowds, Zappi said. Whitefire’s opening has taken place primarily through word of mouth, he said.
The restaurant’s goal is to be a place where everyone can feel comfortable, Daughenbaugh said. Someone can come in wearing anything from a T-shirt and jeans to a three-piece suit.
The restaurant wants the focus to be on the food and make sure people receive an excellent product, he said.