One day, edgy chef Ted Stelzenmuller is in the kitchen at Of Love & Regret, whipping up crispy pig ears, grilled duck tongues, and a burger sprayed with edible gold paint. Then, the next thing you know, he’s gone, severing a collaboration with brewer Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales. What happened at the Brewers Hill restaurant remains a mystery, known only to the main players. Strumke describes the split as due to “creative differences.” Afterward, Stelzenmuller returned to his Canton restaurant Jack’s Bistro, where he is known for creative fare like chocolate mac and cheese and an all-bacon burger.
Suddenly, Strumke—who owns Of Love & Regret with his sister Brenda Strumke and partners Ryan Travers and Leigh Philipkosky—needed to come up with a new chef and menu.
How does a restaurant, which was flying high with positive reviews and nightly crowds, keep the momentum going, especially after it’s been cited as a notable newcomer in Zagat 2013 for its “mid-priced, inventive American menu”?
Strumke—no slouch in the innovative department when it comes to his own brews—turned to sous chef Keith Curley, formerly of Red Maple and Aida Bistro, who was already in the kitchen, and didn’t look back. “Right now, everything is stable and good,” he says. “I travel a lot and come back with ideas and talk to Keith. I like to cook, too.”
The menu will rotate often to keep it from getting stale, Strumke says.
On a recent visit, we found that, indeed, everything is working well under the helm of chef Curley. Some of the crazier items are gone from the menu. But diners will still find a melting pot of global comfort food—from curry chickpea chole to a vegetarian udon noodle bowl. And beer continues to be incorporated into many dishes.
We started with local Binkert’s sausages: a Cellar Door-ale-soaked bratwurst and a smoked debreziner. The two links, each about the size of a hot dog, came with puddles of whole-grain and yellow mustards and delicious house-made bourbon pickles.
We also enjoyed Cellar Door-steamed Maine mussels in a tomato-herb sauce with andouille and garlic, and wonderful crispy rock shrimp tossed with Sriracha sweet chili aioli and topped with tropical-fruit salsa.
The draft menu is impressive, too, including the above-mentioned Stillwater Artisanal Cellar Door and almost two dozen other choices—from Evil Twin “Femme Fatale Brett” to The Bruery “Loakal Red.” Wine lovers need not despair. There are three wines on draft.
The setting is more neighborhood bar than restaurant with a nondescript black door marking the entrance of the restaurant located in the shadow of the Natty Boh Tower. A long bar is the centerpiece of the narrow room dotted with scattered bare tables, including a communal one. A brick wall and chalkboard with drink offerings complete the tavern look.
But the casual-pub vibe ends when the food is served. Our entrees were as impressive as the appetizers. A chunky wild coho salmon fillet was glazed with Stillwater “Bronze Age” whole-grain mustard and set atop a sauté of corn, red potatoes, edamame, and mushrooms.
Our 12-ounce pork rib chop came glistening with a bourbon, cider, and brewers syrup glaze and a mélange of cubed sweet potatoes, pearl onions, apples, and herb butter.
The sandwiches and burgers are also intriguing, including a fall grilled cheese with poached apples and a French burger with Brie and a brandy-poached pear. We opted for the Cuban burger—a flavorful choice with smoked pulled pork, Mexican cheeses, jalapeños, pickles, and slathered with a cilantro, scallion, and garlic purée.
Desserts were homey and delicious. Thankfully, the waffle dessert remains on the menu from the previous chef. You may never think about waffles as breakfast food again: The dish is composed of two small waffles paired with cherries soaked in Stillwater “Existent” ale and a smoked, dark-chocolate sauce.
The Pigtown banana split was also a winner with brûléed bananas, berry sauce, pine-nut brittle, whipped cream, and (get ready) coffee-bourbon-and-“Existent” beer ice cream, layered like a parfait.
As we polished off our desserts, we remembered an earlier visit when we asked our server how the restaurant got its unusual name.
Here’s what she told us: Strumke came up with a floral-laced beer in his early brewing days, and it got him thinking that people only give flowers in times “of love and regret.”
Whether you agree or not about his flower theory, we think you’ll love this restaurant and will have absolutely no regrets about going there, even with a new executive chef in the kitchen.