By Mike Vallas and Mark Smesko
Special to The Vindicator
There was an immediate nostalgic feeling that came from walking into a dimly lit bar, the sight of coin-operated pool tables, the smell of draft beer and the music from a bygone era.
Couldn’t put a name to it, but a friend nailed it when he heard we visited the Draught House. Lou said “Doesn’t that place remind you of Tony’s Hideaway down by YSU?” On the money. Of course for those near age 55, that was years ago, but the memory seems just like yesterday. But the only thing I remember being served besides alcohol at Tony’s was stale popcorn. Tonight that experience was a bit different.
At the back of the Draught House is a (very) small kitchen called Space Kat serving small plates in a big way. The kitchen is manned by an energetic 29 year old named Jack Zizzo. Says Jack, “There’s just three of us back there, so the customer gets to talk to the guys cooking their food when they place their order. My goal is to make sure people have a good time by offering them creative, consistent food.”
Jack, a Youngstown native, spent time honing his skills through working at kitchens in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Austin, Texas. “I worked at La Barbeque where I rose to the position of Head Pit Master. I then got the opportunity to work under Chef Bryce Gilmore at Barley Swine. This is where I learned various techniques that I use every day.” In 2017, he heard about the unused kitchen at the Draught House and decided to start up a place within his own means and terms so that he could focus on putting out dishes with his own signature. In October 2017, Space Kat opened.
Chef Zizzo says Space Kat is “Fine Diving.” They have no wait staff, the menu is on a chalkboard next to the counter where you order, and the food is served on paper plates with plastic forks. Don’t be fooled. This is a scratch kitchen. Everything from the buns and pickles for the burger to the onion and garlic powder used in the spice mixture for the tater tots is made in house. They are putting out some serious food. The menu changes slightly every few weeks. When we looked at the board, we ordered just about everything.
First up was Blistered Shishito Peppers with preserved lemon. This recipe starts when chef preserves whole lemons in a salt and sugar mixture for seven to 10 days. He then grills shishito peppers until slightly charred and tops them with the lemon mixture. This dish essentially has four ingredients and is absolutely delicious. The preserved lemon has a sweet, salty and tart flavor, and the peppers are mild and smoky. Mark loved the lemons so much that he was able to get a lesson on how to make them. You have to get this dish on your visit.
Next up was tater tots. Sounds pretty basic, but Chef Zizzo elevates this simple dish. The tots are fried then seasoned with a house-made spice mix of various ingredients including house-made onion and garlic powder as well as cayenne. This is served with a truffle aioli. The tots are crispy with a little spice and the truffle flavor of the aioli was wonderful.
We then sampled Brussel sprouts. Chef makes his own candied pecans as well as a sweet chili gastrique to go along with the deep fried sprouts. The edges of the sprouts are a little charred in a good way. The pecans provide texture, while the gastrique provides a little sweetness. Another dish that on the surface seems simple, but in reality, required a lot of thought and preparation. If you’re not a fan of Brussel sprouts, this dish will change your mind.
Chef Zizzo admits he was reluctant to put a burger on his menu but knew if he was going to do one, it had to be interesting. He first makes bacon in house that is then ground up with beef chuck so the bacon is incorporated throughout the burger. The burger, cooked medium to medium rare, is topped off with house-made pickles, sauce, American cheese and caramelized beer onions. All are sandwiched in the house-made bun. At first bite, you think it may be a little salty but that’s just the deliciousness of the bacon. A juicy, tasty burger.
There also is fried chicken on the menu. One of their more popular dishes starts with boneless chicken thighs that are coated and deep fried crispy. Chef makes a fish caramel sauce for the thighs and tops the dish with shaved white onions, fresh basil, mint and cilantro. He explained to us how he made the sauce but there’s not enough space in this article to describe it. Suffice to say it was another winner. Addictive and amazing.
Next was Nam Jim Jaew. A grilled flat iron steak topped with a mixture of tamarind and Thai chilis. Tender steak cook mid-rare topped with a sweet but tart sauce. A solid dish.
A lot of times we will eat at the restaurant we pick for our story before our visit for the Vindy. We were at Space Kat about a month ago and ate the whole menu, but there was something missing. On the way out Mike commented, “The food was outstanding but it would have been nice to finish with something sweet.” On this visit, Space Kat had house-made beignets on the chalkboard. A light and airy fried dough topped with powdered sugar. Simple and tasty.
If you are going out in search of a few drinks and some amazing food, Space Kat should be on your list. And check out their Facebook page for their Saturday afternoon BBQ offerings. This starts at 11 a.m. and goes until sold out.
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