Chef’s Best – Rye Bar & Restaurant
Elmira’s Near Westside Neighborhood is full of charm and includes many beautifully restored Victorian homes. At the northeast corner you will find one of the newest and best additions to the neighborhood in a familiar space, Rye Bar & Restaurant.
Rye Bar & Restaurant’s familiar digs are best known as Horigan’s to us locals. Founded in 1937, Horigan’s Tavern was a popular dining destination. I had many business lunches there over the years. The French onion soup was a must have on the menu.
Horigan’s closed in 2018, but a second life was only a year and a half away. In 2019, Charlie Hunter bought the historic building and brought it back to life as Rye Bar & Restaurant. “I bought it and restored it to life with the help of local trades people and a great local designer: Todd Yoggy,” said Hunter. “Although the bottom of the bar, front and back, is original to Horigan’s, the upper back bar was designed from scratch by Yoggy and completes its pub personality.”
An Elmira native, Hunter returned after more than 20 years living in San Francisco where he observed and absorbed the thriving restaurant scene. “There are over 6,000 restaurants in San Francisco and that creates a beautiful competitive and cross-pollinating atmosphere,” said Hunter. “One is exposed to great food on literally every corner. I love many of the restaurants in the Elmira area, but no one was really doing it quite like they do in San Francisco… so that’s what I set out to do at Rye.”
Elmira is home for Hunter, and a taste of home can be found at Rye Bar & Restaurant as well. “I also got inspiration from my mom who gave me a love of cooking and of food,” said Hunter. “She was famous for wanting a bit of everything available, excited to try things she hadn’t before. She was a great cook herself and we use a few of her dishes on the menu, including her spaghetti sauce.”
Hunter’s menu at “The Rye” is masterfully presented by what he calls a ‘group chef’. That is his collection of people who are passionate about food and drink. “We each have different skills, talents, and interests which, combined, help Rye grow,” said Hunter. “All of our food is fresh, and all of our dressings and sauces are house-made.”
With the history and background established; it was my time to experience The Rye, and what an amazing experience it was.
Classy and cozy, that was my first impression. Those two words were echoed by the ambience, each interaction; by every plate and beverage served.
My wife Marisa and I were greeted warmly by Hunter and our adventure began. Cocktails first of course, a French Martini for me, and The Bourbon Drink was recommended for Marisa. Both expertly crafted, balanced and beautifully presented.
The Rye’s cocktail menu is inventive and expansive, worth a visit just for drinks, (inside tip, get there between 4p-6p for half price Happy Hour). One look at the back bar and you see their large selection of every kind of liquor imaginable. “I insist on fresh ingredients including fresh citrus juices for the best tasting cocktails,” said Hunter. ‘We have awesome bartenders here who regularly come up with new cocktail ideas they’ve invented or researched.”
Our meal began with the scallops wrapped in bacon appetizer. “A classic,” according to Hunter. The sweet, seared scallops paired well with the slightly smokey, salty bacon; but the apricot chutney stole the show on this plate. Spiced with black pepper and fresh horseradish, the chutney made this dish sing with zing. Every bite popped, each texture and note danced. Hands down, one of the best scallop dishes I have ever had.
The salad course is not an oversight at The Rye. Marisa chose the Ithaca Salad. “A nod to the amazing salads I remember from a restaurant called Cabbagetown in Ithaca,” said Hunter. “They had these big wooden salad bowls and a host of vegan salads with all kinds of fresh and unusual ingredients.” The salad is a meal in itself, perfect to pair with a class of wine when you are looking something light for dinner.
I was presented with the Caesar salad. No bottled generic salad dressing or unevenly chopped greens here. The salad was full of flavor, with fresh crisp romaine leaves and crunchy house made croutons. A Caesar isn’t a Caesar without a great dressing and The Rye has it nailed down. “The dressing recipe is a gift from a restaurant I worked at on Cape Cod,” said Hunter, “it is thick and rich and garlicky.”
While the sauces were smashing successes leading up to the main course, what I was served next was pure, simple and perfect in every way. The Kurobuta center cut pork chop is a sight to behold, weighing in at 16 ounces, standing two inches thick. This is 100% unadulterated pork, as it is meant to be tasted. No frills, because none are needed.
“The pork chop is Kurobuta pork which means that it is bred and raised in a way to promote extra marbling for flavor and juiciness,” described Hunter. “It is the most juicy and flavorful pork chop I’ve ever had: no sauce needed!”
This dish surpassed expectations. No marinades. No spices or herbs to get in the way. This is pork, prepared perfectly. The sides of mashers and asparagus filled out the plate nicely, and were great sidekicks; but did I mention the pork?
Marisa went the seafood route and ordered the special of the day, bouillabaisse, served in a large bowl, overflowing with cod, shrimp, mussels and clams. The aromatic fish stew was as fresh as the sea in any harbor town. “When we got some fresh cod in a couple weeks ago, I remembered the dish from my time on the cape and was super excited to make my own,” said Hunter.
The meal was timed to perfection, every course served with time to breathe. The staff at The Rye always quick with a smile, checking in just enough to ensure we were happy, without being intrusive. Hunter persuaded us to cap off the meal with desserts, two of his choosing. Do yourself a favor, 16 ounces of pork in your belly or not; find room for dessert. You will not be disappointed.
I was skeptical when a slice of ginger cake was put down in front of me. Not what I would ever order, but that is why I love Chef’s Best. The choice is not mine. So ginger cake it was, and ginger cake it will always be when I visit The Rye.
The ginger flavor in this cake dances across your tastebuds. It is so unique, so alive. The caramel sauce on the plate is the perfect partner for this super moist cake that will keep your fork diving back until it is gone.
Marisa didn’t get to pick her dessert, but she did get the one she would have chosen, The house-made peanut butter bar. This delicacy is nothing like the commercial cup variety of the same combination. The chocolate on top was sweet, rich, just thick enough to provide the texture needed to compliment the peanut butter bar hidden below. A scoop of Ithaca’s best Purity vanilla ice cream on top and ding-ding… we have a winner.
Everything about our night at Rye Bar & Restaurant was worth repeating, and worth recommending. Cozy and classy. Relaxed and sophisticated. Amazing cocktails and fantastic food. The Rye has it all, and then some. The tradition continues at “Bus” Horigan’s Tavern thanks to Charlie Hunter.
Stop in today. When you dine just ask for the Chef’s Best!
About Rye Bar & Restaurant
Address: 365 Davis Street
Elmira, NY 14901