SteelheadSign.jpg
Late into my third night eating at Steelhead, there's a moment when Davis--buried in tickets, juggling plates, grouping finished orders for pickup and surrounded by

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Looking Back, Looking Forward: Last Days At Steelhead Diner

SteelheadSign.jpg
Late into my third night eating at Steelhead, there's a moment when Davis--buried in tickets, juggling plates, grouping finished orders for pickup and surrounded by the smooth-running army of white-jacketed cooks that crowd and surround him like frantic doves beating themselves against the confines of the line--just stops moving for a moment. In that moment, he is not expediting, not tasting, not reaching for this or that, wiping plates, directing the troops, snapping at the waitresses, smiling for the friends and fans who approach him from the other side of the pass to congratulate him or thank him or just say hi. He isn't checking his cell phone. He isn't garnishing or plating or taking one of his cooks aside for a huddled conference.

He is only standing still, sweat running across the dome of his shaved head, and slowly scanning the room, from one end to the other, with unfocused eyes and shoulders that slump in something like relief. A thin wisp of a smile flickers across his face as he looks out from the kitchen that has been solely his for the past three years--his home and family business, the leap that he took and the place where he landed. And while maybe he's just surveying the floor, weighing the crowd in his mind, thinking about his prep levels, wondering where the Southern-fired half-chicken in front of him is supposed to go, or just thinking about his wife and partner, Terresa Davis, and the twins she's due to deliver in just a couple short months, I don't think that's it. I know that look and can feel the willful blindness of it as Davis subtracts every customer from the floor, every server, every busboy and bartender and sees only the blank slate, the empty room--Steelhead Diner as it was in its first moments, before it was anything at all.

Chef Davis is having a last look before everything changes again.

By the time you read this week's review of Steelhead, chef and owner Kevin Davis will be buried neck deep in details concerning the opening of his new restaurant, Blueacre Seafood, in the former home of Oceanaire. His first friends-and-family dinner is on Wednesday night. Barring any unforeseen disaster, he goes live to the public on Friday.

But what fascinated me was finding him cooking on the line at Steelhead on a busy Sunday night just a few days ago--finding him still taking tickets and plating fish just a week or so out from the opening of a huge new chapter in his life. This week's review? It's almost more of a story about Kevin Davis than it is about the restaurant he's called home for the past two years, and is certainly a meditation on change and control and what will happen to Steelhead after he shifts his attention to the new address.

It's an interesting time in any chef's life, these weeks before a new opening. And you're going to have to tune in tomorrow to see all the details about how Davis (and Steelhead) are handling the pressure.

 
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